MARTIN R. DELANY AND
by Robert J. Cummings, Ph.D.
One of the severest decades of trial through which the African-American ever passed was
1830-40. The vast economic changes which made slavery the cornerstone of the cotton
kingdom were by this time only memories and all the subtle moral adjustments which
followed were in full action. During the period between 1830-1860, with several New
England states the exceptions, the deterioration of free Black people's status within the
boundaries of the United States increased tremendously. Even the common northern
belief was that the Negro was inferior and thus incapable of assimilating politically,
socially, economically, and most certainly physically with the dominant and superior white
Therefore, the primary question of how does one become free was foremost in the minds of
African-Americans. In response to the question, many leaders urged evolutionary
approaches to freedom via education and the acquisition of personal property, or voluntary
segregation within local Black communities, and plans of emigration.
Dr. Martin R. Delany, among others, responded that they should emigrate to South and
Central America, the West Indies, Canada and, of course, Africa. But during the
second and third quarters of the l9th century, many free black people in the United States
demonstrated a belief that Africa was without science, arts and a knowledge of government.
Africa was said to be a dark continent where the recently acquired light of
Christianity would be shut out by the clouds of ignorance associated with Africa itself.
W.E.B. DuBois has explained the attitudes of some free Black people toward Africa
during this period and ties their negative and repulsive conceptual images of Africa to
their attitudes toward the American Colonization Society.
The free antebellum Black community was not hateful of Africa as much as western
historiography has sought to demonstrate. African Americans had positive
feelings toward Africa and Africa's development. They felt that Africa needed some
of them to help in this developmental process. Africa needed education and
Christianity, they argued, but not the kind the American Colonization Society was trying
to force upon the continent. They felt rather strongly that sending: