[Home] [Book] [Expand] [Collapse] [Help]

Clear Search Expand Search


Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany



As Delany was desirous of contributing his aid to the suppression of the rebellion, in various ways he offered to make his services acceptable, which being of no avail, as northern ingenuity had not yet discovered the latent powers of black muscles, he was forced to remain an unwilling looker-on while others bore the part he believed assigned to his race.

While thus unemployed, he accepted the advice of gentlemen of influence and standing, among whom were the Hon. F. S. Gregory and the Rev. Dr. Riddell, of Jersey City, Joseph B. Collins and Isaac Smith, Esqs., of New York, to make a tour through the country, and lecture on Africa and his researches there.

These lectures, beginning after the publication of his report, were exceedingly popular. They were free courses, held generally in the most prominent churches of various denominations, under the auspices of their respective pastors; his book being sold to the audience at the conclusion. These being attended by the most refined and influential of society, he took occasion always to bring forward the claims of his race to the war, endeavoring to create a popular feeling in favor of arming the blacks. For as the huge monster of rebellion

began assuming its gigantic proportions with all its hideous deformities, all were admitting the absurdity of its being "put down in a few months." While many then recognized that the blast from Sumter's embattlement was but a reverberation of that which rung out so clearly upon the midnight air, a few short years back, at Harper's Ferry, they scarcely saw the black's identity with the issue.

To these lectures there was no impediment offered by his political enemies, on the score of color, to prevent his being heard, but on one occasion; and the cause assigned being so novel and ill-arranged we cannot help referring to the circumstance.

Being in Detroit, he was solicited by that distinguished and venerable divine, Dr. Duffield, author of "The Christian Regeneration," who offered him his church, on the following Sabbath, to deliver a lecture on any moral subject he should choose, before his congregation. The doctor accepted the invitation; but at the precise moment of leaving for the church, a gentleman called upon him, abruptly remarking, "It was not known until this moment that you are the person who improved the opportunity to insult the American minister at the Court of St. James. You need not come; we will not hear you!" This was of course instantly denied, with an attempted explanation; but his accuser, for some reason, persisting in the charge, and indignantly refusing to hear an explanation, abruptly withdrew. Soon after a committee of gentlemen called, stating that the church was crowded, determined to hear him and give him an opportunity to explain the impolitic charge against him. Thanking them, he peremptorily declined.

lest he should compromise the excellent pastor by the accusation most certain to be made, that "the abolitionists of the church had forced a negro into it, though protested against by the other portion of the congregation." Again, that Sabbath being the first after the attack on Fort Sumter, he insisted to his friends, knowing the great issue at stake, that it was no time to divide the feelings of the people. The point was conceded by his friends, and they yielded, when one of them, a wealthy manufacturer, rented the "Murrill Hall" at his own expense, where, on the first evening, he made a satisfactory explanation of the alleged offence, and lectured for four consecutive evenings.

A few days after this, while seated in the cars, dashing along the Great Western Railway in Canada, listening to a discussion on the probabilities of the war and its result, a gentleman stepped up, addressing him by name, stated that he resided at Detroit, and was there at the time the objection was raised against having him lecture at the church, and, "although a Democrat, he did not sympathize with the issue made against him, and that it was simple justice due to him to state that the author of the charge was Colonel--, recent charge d'affaires at the Court of R--, who made the statement as being true, he having been present at the International Congress at the time, and knew the attack on the American minister to have been of the grossest character and altogether unnecessary." This, the major says, was the first and only information he ever had of the conversion of that incident into an attack by him upon the American minister.

He continued his course of lectures, and heard no

more such absurd charges, persons being perhaps too absorbed in the fearful struggle, when a nation should be born anew, and old prejudices and hatred forever buried, to repeat the slander.

At this time, too, there were endless speculations concerning the course and determined policy of Mr. Lincoln, who, with few exceptions, was being regarded with suspicion by the friends of the blacks as well as by the blacks themselves, based upon his inaugural address (to the first we allude, for the second lives forever), together with the Central American Emigration scheme, which we now recognize as a most successful coup d'etat of the president. It set the opinion at rest forever that the colored people could be induced to emigrate from their home, and this their country, en masse .

Speculations were endless as to the tendency of the president's course. As it is not considered as assumption for a man of limited means to have an opinion of his own, Dr. Delany had and claimed the right, after much deliberation, to express his views concerning the policy of the president. Many of his friends differed widely from him; he held his own convictions with his usual tenacity, and endeavored to convince them. He thought he could discern, in the course then being pursued by Mr. Lincoln, a logical conclusion, and which, if not at first intended, would ultimately result in accomplishing the desires of the friends of freedom-- emancipation to the slaves of the South, and the freedmen's rights as an inevitable consequence.

Said he on one occasion, "I thought I could see differently from my friends, those truly talented men,

and unswerving friends of their race. Not that I know more than they, for I may not know as much. But we, like white men, have our faculties and propensities, and are likely to develop them in the prosecution of our course. In this I think it may not be regarded as an unwarranted assumption or egotism to say that in national affairs and in fundamental principles of government, I claim to be at least no far reward of my friends whose counsels I sought. To inquire into the origin of races and governments, and the rise and fall of nations, is with me a propensity I cannot resist. This is not said for invidious comparison with my friends, because as an orator (which I am not), anti-slavery historian, and portrayer of black men's wrongs, I would sink into insignificance in comparison with Frederick Douglass, and would render myself ridiculous were I capable of assuming to be equally learned with Dr. James McCune Smith. While I considered him at the time of his death the most scientific and learned colored man, as a scholar, on the American continent, yet neither scholarship and splendid talents among black men ceased to exist with Dr. McCune Smith, nor will end with the name of the renowned Douglass. They are more numerous, comparatively, than their opportunities warrant." He sought his friends, to devise with them the means best adapted to meet the demands of the hour. The subject present in his mind was that of the army. He argued strongly, always in favor of separate organization, as the only means to give character to the colored people, and promote their pride of race, thus crediting them in history with deeds of their own. In this
he was afterwards supported by the late Dr. McCune Smith, and the lamented Thomas Hamilton of the Anglo-African.

On one occasion he sought Mr. Frederick Douglass at his home at Rochester, who was then restlessly impatient, as were a host of others, at the slow, undefined steps of the president. It is not for us to question whether or not those sad, patient eyes, from the beginning of the struggle, discerned, amid the mists and shadows of the future, the symbol of Union synonymous with emancipation, and, rejoicing, quietly awaited the development of events, or if it was indeed a " military necessity ," which occasioned its promulgation. Since the many disclosures of party treachery and corruption in high places, the pureness of action which marked his career forms a striking contrast, on which the loyal heart contemplates with a pride mingled with tenderness. That a signal providence directed his course, beset as he was by false counsellors and foes, who hesitated at no measures which subserved their purposes, it is evident. The fiery trials and perplexities through which he passed but purified him for the halo of martyrdom which ultimately encircled his furrowed brow, enshrining him forever in the nation's innermost heart.

Before his departure from Rochester he had the satisfaction of hearing Mr. Douglass express himself more favorably editorially in his able journal, and this before it went to press. Said he, "It was to this change of opinion in my great-hearted friend that we date the correspondence with the Hon. Montgomery Blair, asking the aid of his great influence in behalf of the president

in putting down the rebellion, and which resulted in a special official request for Mr. Douglass to visit Washington, and his subsequent conference with the president and cabinet, including the able secretary of war."

An incident is related in connection with his many arguments in behalf of the government, believing its policy ultimately tended to emancipation. In conversation once on this subject with some of his friends, there was present an accomplished European lady, who professed no respect for the Americanism of that date, and was by no means favorably impressed with President Lincoln's course. He sought to disarm her of her prejudices against the administration, as his faith was in the power behind the throne, which was greater than the throne itself. She suddenly turned from his theories, telling him he did not comprehend the great questions involved in the issue of the war. Before he could recover from this abrupt stroke, Mr. Douglass came to his aid, which timely relief saved him from a most terrible rout. Said Mr. Douglass, "Madam, you do not know the gentleman with whom you are conversing; if there be one man among us to whose opinion I would yield on the subject of government generally, that man is the gentleman now before you."