Martin Delany was born in West Virginia a free man, the son of Pati and Samuel Delany. He was considered free because his Mother Pati was a free women. In his growing years he and his siblings were taught to read using the New York primer to learn to read. To keep from being arrested his mother moved the children to Pennsylvania a free state. He did have to leave school occasionally to help on the family farm but eventually he did migrate to Pittsburgh where he became a barber and laboroer to support himself.- In 1834 Delany met and married Catherine Richard with whom he married Catherine Richards and they had 11 children that all survived to adulthood. During the national choldera epidemic in 1833, Delany became apprenticed to Dr. AndrewN. McDowell, where he learned contemporary techniques of fire cupping and leeching then condidered the primary techniques to treat. He continued to study under the mentorship of Dr. McDowell and other abolisionist doctors, such as Dr F. Julius LeMoyne and Dr. Joseph P. Gazzam of Pittsburgh.
Delany became more active in political matters. In 1835 he attended his first National men of color convention, held in Philadelphia since 1831. He was inspired to conceive a plan to set up a ‘Black Israel’ on the east coast of Africa. He also became involved in the temperance movement and organizations caring for fugitive slaves who had escaped to Pennsylvania, a free state. While Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were in Pittsburgh in 1847 on an anti-slavery tour, they met with Delany. Together the men conceived the newspaper that became the North Star. It was first published later that year in Rochester, New York. The business was handled by Douglass, while Delany traveled to lecture, report, and obtain subscriptions. During these travels, he was frequently confronted by mobs opposing his views, sometimes violently.
While living in Pittsburgh, Delany studied the basics of medicine under doctors and maintained his own cupping and leeching practice. In 1849 he began to study more seriously to prepare to apply to medical school. In 1850 he failed to be accepted to several institutions before being accepted at Harvard Medical school, after presenting letters of support from seventeen physicians. He was one of the first three black men to be admitted there.
Following the war, Delany continued to be politically active. He worked to help black cotton farmers improve their business and negotiating skills to get a better price for their product. He also argued against blacks, when he saw fit, however. He opposed the vice presidential candidate of J. J. Wright because he was too inexperienced, and also opposed the candidacy of a black man for the mayor of Charlston, SC. In the later 1870s, the gains of the Reconstruction period began to be pushed back by more conservative elements. White Democrats replaced Delany in office. Parlimentary groups such as the Red Shirts suppressed black voting in South Carolina, especially in the upland counties.
In reaction to whites’ regaining power and the suppression of black voting, Charleston -based blacks started planning again for emigration to Africa. In 1877, they formed ‘Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company’, with Delany as chairman of the finance committee. A year later, the company purchased a ship – the Azor – for the voyage. Delany worked as president of the board to organize the voyage. In 1880, he withdrew from the project to serve his family. Two of his children were students at Wilberforce College and required money for tuition fees. His wife had been working as a seamstress to make ends meet. Delany began practicing medicine again in Charleston. On 24 January 1885, he died of tuberculosis in Wilberforce, Ohio.