Martin Delany came to Pittsburgh in 1831 at the age of 19. He founded here the first Black newspaper west of the Alleghenies, The Mystery, whose masthead declared: “Hereditary bondsmen! Know ye not who would be free, themselves must strike the first blow!” When finances forced his paper to close, he joined Frederick Douglas as co-editor of the The North Star.
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, September 18, 1850, drove many in Pittsburgh to acts of resistance. On September 30, 1850, a massive protest meeting was held in the Allegheny City market-house. Delany declared his intention to resist. “My house is my castle; in that castle are none but my wife and my children, as free as the angels of heavens, and whose liberty is as sacred as the pillars of God. If any man approaches that house in search of a slave…and I do not lay him a lifeless corpse at my feet, I hope the grave may refuse my body a resting place and righteous Heaven my spirit a home. Oh No! He cannot enter my house and we both live.”
With medical training from several of Pittsburgh’s finest white doctors, Delany was admitted to Harvard, but the hostility of white students forced his expulsion. Returning to Pittsburgh in 1851, he published the treatise that gave him the title “father of Black nationalism”. His Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Poltically Considered was a declaration of racial pride and a call for emigration out of the United States. Delaney moved his family to Canada and helped John Brown convene an anti-slavery convention. When the Harper’s Ferry raid transpired, however, Delany, was leading an expedition to present day Nigeria where in 1859 he negotiated land for a settlement. Upon his return to the United States, the Civil War placed the issue of slavery squarely on the nation’s agenda. Delany threw himself into the recruitment of Black soldiers and was commissioned the first Black officer in the U.S. Army by President Abraham Lincoln himself.