Study Guide

Henry Delany in Having Our Say

By Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth

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Henry Delany

Henry might as well be Moses, because he leads the Delanys out of slavery and into the Promised Land. As an adult, Henry selflessly pushes his children to better themselves, their community, and their country. Can someone get this guy a "Father of the Year" coffee mug already?!

Humble Beginnings

Henry is the only member of Sadie and Bessie's immediate family who lived through slavery. Luckily, the Delanys were better off than most: they "could read and write, [...] hadn't been abused, and their family was still together" (2.5.15). That being said, they made the most out of every single opportunity they were given, managing to rise out of the depths of poverty within a generation.

These early experiences shape the way that Henry leads his family. Like his own parents, he has a three-pronged focus: education, family, and service to the community. He's a strict disciplinarian, but his kids "never doubted Papa [...] about anything" once he shows that he's always looking out for their best interests (3.8.18). Sure, he pushes them to the max in their studies, inspects them for cleanliness each morning, and isn't afraid to lay down a guilt trip or two, but he only does it so the kids will reach their full potential.

Slow and Steady

This conservative approach earns him plenty of detractors. Like Booker T. Washington, Henry is looked at by radical thinkers as someone "who would let white people push him around," or worse—a racial sellout (5.21.21). While there's nothing wrong with advocating a strong stance against institutional racism, it's hard to argue that Henry's approach doesn't work.

Listen, the guy has ten kids and each one of them goes on to become pretty successful. Although his efforts might seem small, they end up causing ripples that affect things in ways not visible on the surface.

The Delany Children

There are so many Delany children that they're just one away from fielding a full football team. Who would play quarterback, you ask? Bessie—obviously.

Although we don't spend much time with the siblings as individuals, we get a good sense of their challenges and accomplishments. These little anecdotes help us better understand Sadie and Bessie, as well as fleshing out the varied (but intersecting) paths taken by the Delany kids.

Let's take a look, shall we:

  • Lemuel: He's the only sibling that remains in Raleigh. He decides to become a doctor after a near-death experience and is very well-respected in North Carolina.
  • Julia: We don't learn too much about Julia, but we do see that she is treated better at factory jobs than Bessie because she's light enough to have "passed for white if she tried." (5.17.9)
  • Harry (Hap): Although he's younger than Sadie and Bessie, Hap is a bit of a trailblazer. He is the first to get into dentistry and the first to move to Mount Vernon.
  • Manross: Like James Miliam, Manross doesn't take guff from anyone—Sadie and Bessie included. Despite his hard exterior, Manross is crushed when he returns from service in WW2 to find white people giving "him dirty looks" and making "nasty remarks when he'd wear his uniform." (5.15.14)
  • Hubert: Hubert becomes one of the first black judges in NYC and a major political player, even walking "through the streets to try to quiet things down" with the mayor during the "1935 race riot." (5.23.10) 
  • Laura: Laura gives birth to Baby Hubie, whose death has a profound effect on both Sadie and Bessie.
  • Sam: Sam is the baby boy of the family, so everyone has soft spot for him. He eventually becomes an undertaker (no, not that Undertaker).

That was a doozy. As you can see, each sibling confronts different challenges and attains different goals.

But what they share in common is that they all worked their heinies off to become successful—and, somehow, they all did. Those Delanys are one heck of a family.

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