One Author's Life


An Extraordinary American: Rev. Henry B. Delany, Born 155 Years Ago Today

February 5, 2013

One hundred and fifty-five years ago today, Henry B. Delany, who would become the first Black elected Bishop of the Episcopal Church U.S.A., was born into slavery on a plantation in St. Marys, Georgia. At the age of 7, he recalled the excitement and shock of learning the Civil War had ended. With his parents and ten older brothers and sisters, little Henry crossed the St. Marys River and settled in Fernandina Beach, Florida. All they had were the clothes they were wearing. They gathered wild plants for food and caught fish in the river. Eventually, they built a lean-to. They were able to get on their feet much more quickly than other freed slaves for one reason: The white family that had "owned" them had broken Georgia law by teaching the Delany children to read and write. In one generation, the Delanys vaulted from poverty. It was Henry, however, who would reach heights no one could imagine. Recruited by a white Episcopal priest to attend Saint Augustine's School (now College) in Raleigh, N.C., Henry impressed everyone he met. He married a fellow student, Nanny Logan Delany, and the couple raised 10 children. Among those children were a pair of sisters, absolutely inseparable, named Sarah ("Sadie") and Elizabeth ("Bessie"). After moving to Harlem, the sisters earned graduate degress from Columbia University and were ground-breaking career women in their own right. I met them in 1991 when they were 100 and 102 years old. Our book, an oral history called HAVING OUR SAY, tells their stories - as well as Henry Delany's, their beloved Papa, whose birthday they continued to celebrate each Feb. 5 until they passed away themselves.