Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Perhaps in no other area is the search for a positive black past more pronounced than in the field of black biography. The need for a better understanding of the black past is closely tied to the reconstruction of the lives of black leaders in the nineteenth century. These leaders, many of whom remain relatively unknown, struggled for black freedom and rights. Unfortunately, the rise of the aristocratic tradition in American historiography in the second half of that century seriously undermined their historical significance. The task of reconstructing their careers, therefore, involved a confrontation with the values of aristocratic history. Consequently, in some cases, the need to acquire a better understanding of these leaders is sacrificed to that of disproving the racist conclusions of aristocratic history.;Modern scholarly responses to Martin Robison Delany (1812-1885) unfortunately suffer from this defect. A key figure in the nineteenth century black struggles, Delany remained obscure until nationalist upsurges in the Third World and the radical movement in the United States focused attention on him.;Unfortunately, however, the quest for a progressive past and heroes has led to a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Delany and his values. He is defined as a radical, and a man with a consistency of purpose who never compromised on black needs and aspirations.;This portrait, however, conflicts seriously with the sort of values that Delany represented in his actions and writings. His strategy was cautious and flexible and changed with time and circumstances. Consequently he sometimes found himself pitted against what others perceived as the legitimate aspirations of blacks. Paradoxically, in his ever-changing perceptions of the black struggle, and in his ambivalent responses, lay some of the realities of the black experience--instability and betrayals. His was the odyssey of a man who commenced in the forefront of the movement for black freedom and ended in the forefront of the crusade for black subordination.



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