Martin Robison Delany (1812-1885) was born in Virginia; his father was enslaved while his mother was a free woman. Delany applied to Harvard Medical School at age thirty-eight and had applied to several medical schools. He was a student of Latin and Greek and a member of Pittsburgh's African Education, Antislavery, Temperate, Philanthropic, Moral Reform, and Young Men's Bible Societies. When Delany applied in person to Harvard Medical School, he had seventeen letters of recommendation from physicians in Pittsburgh and Allegheny, Pennsylvania, as well as three letters from clergymen, endorsing Delany's character and intelligence. After leaving Harvard Medical School, Delany went on to become a leader in several arenas, including abolition, reconstruction, and medicine. He was a physician, author, activist, and soldier and is considered by many to be the father of Black Nationalism. Delany died in 1885 in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Delany was also a pioneer of ethnography. In the 1860s, he traveled across the Niger River valley, where he visited and described various African territories and communities. In 1880, he published Principia of Ethnology: the origin of races and color, with an archaeological compendium of Ethiopian and Egyptian civilizations. In this work, Delany developed what could be called a "counter-ethnology," from which he proposed an original alternative to the race sciences of the 18-19th century.
Excerpt adapted from "Martin Robison Delany", in Perspectives of Change, Harvard University. Online
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