First Black U.S. Army officer remembered

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Martin Delany’s 200th Birthday to be commemorated – Descendants sought

Charles Town, WV ( — May 6, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Martin Robison Delany’s birthday. Officials from the Jefferson County Black Preservation Society are looking to honor the descendants in various activities throughout this Bicentennial year.

Delany, born a free black man in 1812 it what was then Charlestown, Virginia (now Charles Town, West Virginia), is best known for being the first black line officer in the U.S. Army. But he is much more than that.

Delany learned how to read and write by sitting outside the classroom of his white friends in Charlestown. He was denied the right to learn by the Commonwealth of Virginia law that prohibited blacks from being educated. When authorities learned about him, they confronted Delany’s mother. Instead of going to jail, she fled with her son and other children to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

At various times in his life Martin Delany attended Harvard College to pursue a career in medicine, was a newspaper owner, an author, and was one of the country’s first black nationalists. He also was the organizer of the John Brown (the abolitionist) Constitutional Convention in Chatham, Ontario, Canada in 1858.

He proposed Negroes start their lives over in a new country perhaps in the West Indies or South America when he became convinced that would never get a fair shake in the United States. Delany’s book The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States tells of his ideas to form that new country.

Delany met with President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War to suggest to the president that colored men be allowed to become soldiers in the Union army. President Lincoln sent a memo to Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War, imploring Stanton to “Do not fail to have an interview with this most extraordinary and intelligent black man.”

He was a recruiter for several USCT regiments including for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Volunteers. He was later named Major Delany, becoming the first black line officer in the U. S. Army.

In his later years, Major Delany became affiliated with Wilberforce University in Ohio. He died on January 24, 1885 and is buried near the school.

According to George Rutherford, the organization’s president and President of the Jefferson County NAACP, the group is commemorating Delany’s life with lectures, essay contests and other activities throughout 2012. (See the complete list below) Rutherford said Delany’s descendants will be honored during the African American Cultural Heritage Festival held this year August 17-19 in particular. “We will honor them at a reception Friday night. They will be featured in our parade on Saturday.” The organization has hosted similar descendants programs in 2006 for descendants of the Niagara Movement participants and in 2009 for the descendants of the John Brown raid participants.

Anyone who knows of a descendant of Martin Delany is urged to contact George Rutherford at or call him at 304-725-9610 or Gwenny Roper at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park at or call her at 304-535-6166.

The African American history of Jefferson County West Virginia cannot be separated from American history. The first African American free settlement in Virginia, John Brown’s raid, and the first Civil Rights meeting on American soil were all in this county. The Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society’s African American Heritage Trail brochure is available by calling (866) HELLO-WV or by emailing to


Date: February 29, 2012 – Wednesday
Activity: Martin Delany Essay/Media Contest
8th and 10th grade students invited to submit either an essay or media project (music recording, video) on the life of Delany. $75.00 awards to two 8th grade entries and two 10th grade entries.
Contact James Surkamp 304-261-7911 or Antoinette Ringgold 304-728-6576

Date: May 3, 2012 – Thursday
Activity: County Proclamation
At the regular Jefferson County Commission meeting the Commission will issue a proclamation recognizing and endorsing the Martin Delany Commemoration Celebration.

Date: May 5, 2012 – Saturday 2-4pm
Activity: Forum – Delany’s early years, life in Charles Town
A discussion on the life of Delany in Charles Town before his family was force to flee to Chambersburg, PA
Location : Fishermen Hall 340 South West Street, Charles Town, WV

Date: May 6, 2012 – Sunday 3pm
Activity: Delany Birthday Party (200 years)
The official Delany 200th Anniversary birthday cake will be cut. Local, county and state officials will be invited to participate along with any descendants. The Martin Delany Essay/Media Contest winners will be announced. Party is free and open to the public.
Location Star Lodge #1 Masonic Hall 240 S. Lawrence St. (Delany Place), Charles Town, WV
Contact Maurice Ballard 304-820-6236

Date: May 18, 2012 – Friday 7pm
Activity: Martin Delany (History Alive)
Joe Bundy will present his History Alive presentation of Martin Delany, followed by a question and answer session. Bundy may also give his presentation at the Job Corps during the day.
Location Fishermen Hall also at one of the local school during the afternoon.
Contact James Tolbert 304-725-7852

Date: May 18, 2012 – Friday 8am
Activity: The 1st Annual Martin R. Delany’s Scholarship Golf Tourney
Profit from the tourney will be used to fund the Martin R. Delany’s Scholarship Fund
Location Locust Hill Golf Club – Charles Town, WV
Contact Maurice Ballard 304-820-6236 or

Date: May 21, 2012 – Monday 7pm
Activity: Forum – Delany life between leaving Charles Town (1822) and the beginning of the Civil War (1861). Relationship with Frederick Douglass and John Brown. His role as an author and editor.
Location CT Library Lower level
Contact James Surkamp 304- 261-7911

Date: TBA
Activity: Delany’s Room Dedication
The American Public University System(APUS)will dedicate a room in honor of Delany at the APUS building at North George Street in Charles Town, WV
Contact John Hough

Date: August 13, 2012 – Monday 7pm
Activity: Martin Delany / John Brown meeting
Detail presentation of the historical meeting of John Brown and Martin Delany in Canada in 1858.
Location: Fishermen Hall
Contact Bob O’Connor 304-535-2627

Date: August 17, 2012 – Friday 6pm
Activity: Descendants’ reception and party
Location County grounds, Corner of East Washington & North Samuel St. Charles Town
Contact Lyn Widmyer 304-279-3201

Date: August 17 -19, 2012
Activity: 20th Annual African American Culture & Heritage Festival
The festival is being dedicated in honor to Delany. Descendants are invited to participate in the annual parade that will take place on Saturday at 12 noon which take place down the main street in Charles Town. Educational, health, vendors, food, festive and other activities will take place at the festival ground located at 301 South Lawrence St. Charles Town.
Contact Warren Stewart 304-229-7248

Date: September 15, 2012 – Saturday
Activity: Placing of historical markers
A wayside exhibit will be place near Delany’s birth site. This is part of the Annual Charles Town Heritage Days activities Location The 200 block of West Liberty Street in Charles Town
Contact Doug Perks 304-725-2208

Date: September 17, 2012 – Monday 7pm
Activity: Forum – Delany life during and after the Civil War 1861 – 1885
Will cover the Civil War, the reconstruction era, politics, masonic, death
Location Star Lodge #1 (240 South Lawrence Street)
Contact James Taylor 304-725-7242

Date: November 19, 2012- Monday 7pm
Activity: Film presentation A film on the life of Delany, produced by Jim Surkamp
Location: Fishermen Hall
Contact James Tolbert 304-725-7852
For more information, contact Bob O’Connor at 304-535-2627 or at

Photo Caption: Martin Robison Delany (1812-1885) was the first black line officer int he U.S. Army.

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