Saturday was Martin Delany’s birthday. No hoopla, speeches or commemorations. Next week is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts downtown will be filled to the brim with a multi-ethnic audience of supposed supporters of the assassinated African American leader and his dream of a nation of equality and justice.
There will be poetry and children will recite passages from his speeches. As a federal holiday, government workers (those still receiving pay checks by a president who might give lip service to a commemoration) will get the day off.
Schools and some businesses will close in King’s honor (several others will exploit his name with a so-called “King Sale”). So, what is the difference between King and Delany beside the separation of a millennium?
Both were the preeminent African American leaders of their day. King led marches and helped strike down Jim Crow laws and helped African Americans gain the right to vote. King met with presidents, encouraged and lobbied for a new emancipation proclamation and was a catalyst for social change and moral righteousness. Delany also met with the president of his era, fought to end slavery (with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other), and bring about equality, opportunity and justice.
A noted physician, author and speaker, Delany partnered with Frederick Douglass to publish the nation’s most powerful 19th century Black/abolitionist newspaper, the North Star, and was one of the single most important figures in providing the final straw that broke the back of the Confederacy—the African American freedom fighter.
Delany not only convinced President Abe Lincoln to “integrate” the union army with badly needed Black troops, but recruited thousands, and after being named the nation’s first Black Army major, led them into battle.
Many historians credit the 170,000 African American troops as key to the union’s eventual victory over the Confederacy. In other words, Martin Delany saved the union!
If you want still another similarity between King and Delaney, they were about the same stature (my height…short) and possessed superior intellect and vision (I’m probably short in that area). They were also dedicated to the cause and willing to sacrifice their lives for the betterment of their brethren.
So, why are we commemorating one during this cold and appropriate month of January and not the other? The answer may rest in the fact that King was an integrationist, seeking to heal the nation’s racist wounds, hoping to take Americans to a place of higher spiritual and moral consciousness.
King optimized non-violent protest to fight injustice. He used the Bible as a shield and threatened so-called White Christians with eternal damnation if they ignored the moral mandate of their religion (even if it condoned slavery). Delany was willing to use any means necessary to obtain freedom and justice and fought for “JUST-US.” He didn’t waste energy trying to convince bigots to atone, but instead with a revised edition of the Bible in his back pocket, he stood with truth in one hand and a gun in the other to demand justice.
While King envisioned Black and White children playing, schooling and praying together, Delany is considered the nation’s first Black Nationalist. That means he told his followers to build their own playgrounds, schools and churches. He didn’t oppose “integration,” but felt it was more important to stand as equals.
As such, he led a national crusade to instill ethnic pride in African Americans— those chained and those who falsely believed they were unshackled. He introduced to many of them their true African heritage. Contrary to what they had been taught and tortured into believing, they didn’t leave Africa as slaves, and in fact were the descendants of greatness, the inventors of math, science and medicine. He championed the cause for reparations and encouraged African Americans to build their own communities and to control the institutions that impacted their lives.
Eventually, however, he came to the realization that Africans would never be treated justly in America and that bigotry was in the American DNA.
As a physician, he probably surmised there was no cure for bigotry and we should seek another recourse. Thus, a half century before Marcus Garvey, Delany led a “B(l)ack to Africa” movement. His slogan was “Africa for Africans,” and he went so far as to purchase a ship and make arrangements with government officials in Liberia (the native home of his grandparents) to carve out a settlement there. (Totally by coincidence, I recently learned that my family had roots in Liberia as well.)
Few in Black History—American His-story for that matter—can equal Delany’s achievements and contributions. So, why, you’re probably asking…again!—even if you’re among the majority of African Americans who five minutes ago had no idea who Delany was—why isn’t there a commemoration for him, if not by America, then by us?
Let me answer that question with a question. Aside from his obvious contributions, why is King so revered? Why has America—the Man—given us King, ignored the contributions of other historic Black civil rights leaders including Delany, and Douglass and Robert Smalls (another history maker you probably haven’t heard of, huh), whose contributions equal that of King.
Actually, the answer was given in the previous paragraph. It is not about contributions, be instead about process and philosophy. Delany is not spoken of in detail or beyond superficiality in government schools for the same reason little is taught about Marcus Garvey or Denmark Vesey, or Nat Turner. Hell, for that matter, include John Brown as a hero to Black America. He jump-started the Civil War and challenged the Western church and their theology.
Simply put, the structure—the Man, the establishment, the Illuminati—has sought over the past 50 years to sanitize and rewrite American His-story and to use it to placate and separate. Central to this scheme (yeah, you can call it another Kwaku conspiracy theory) it is essential to keep people of color politically, culturally and educationally impotent.
Cloud their judgment with false perceptions and reality and limit their means for redress to a moral philosophy they can control through hyperbole and deceit. Moreover, but equally important, give them leaders of “their” choosing, and tell them the election of one of their own, Barack Obama, signaled the end of racism and injustice. Any perceived injustice or hurdle after the election is your own fault.
In other words, do any and everything necessary to ensure the civil rights lion has no teeth and remains without vision. Allowing him to step from under the shadow of slavery and to learn of other options to achieve justice and opportunity has the potential to not just upset the Poltical and cultural apple cart, but overturn it.
Black Nationalism, in particular, is dangerous. Lord Nyame, (that’s God’s name to the uninformed) what would happen if Black folks prioritized supporting our own institutions, demanded controlling our schools and other institutions in our community?
That’s the option Delany offered, and why he is excluded from His-story books. Chances are had he lived today, he would have questioned the sincerity of those who will praise King and his works, pay heed to the intellect and oratory skills of area children, and maybe even sing the Black National Anthem, and then go home to their segregated suburbs.
Delany deserves to be more than a trivia question during Black History Month. I don’t foresee him being given a national holiday, but that doesn’t stop us from demanding a chapter about him and Frederick Douglass in their His-story books, propaganda we pay for through our tax dollars and silence.
And more importantly, we should make it a priority to discuss the methodology and philosophy, not just the contributions, of Black leaders in our households. It is our responsibility to explain to our children that there were others who fought for justice besides King, that there was a Civil Rights Movement before and after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat (and would have been even if she had taken a cab).
Unfortunately, there are few households like mine, where Kwanzaa is more than a notation on my Black oriented calendar, and Black and American history is taught to my children from a different perceptive.
Fortunately, three of my children attended Harambee and sat at the feet of the late educator, historian and teacher of African antiquity Taki Raton and others of like mind. But that’s not the case in most Black households today, where the Black heroes and role models are not Delany and Douglass, but instead Snoop Doggy Dud and Cony’all West.
I use social media to educate our folks on America’s true history and our place in the universe. I tag it as Wisdom Wednesday and Wisdom Weekend and you can check it out on my Facebook and Twitter accounts (@Mikelholt and @Signifyinh).
Obviously, that not enough. But it’s a start, and I’m imploring y’all to join me by doing likewise, or something, anything to advance us.
Refer to each other as brother and sister, instead of nigger (n-word) and bitch (b-word). Demand accountability of the school system through a five-word text. Tell a Black child they were Nyame’s true chosen.
When we finally understand why Delany should receive the accolades, we—and they—bestow on King, we will be one step closer to the dream both shared.