MARTIN R. DELANY AND AFRICA

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 society.

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:

<back to previous page

 

continued on next page>

 

cologo3.gif (6014 bytes)

HUAN 6
November 2000