Delany was born May 6, 1812 in Charles Town, West Virginia. Because it was illegal to teach black people to read or write, he and his siblings taught themselves. In 1835, Delany became more actively involved in political matters and attended his first Negro Conference.
In 1843, he began publishing “The Mystery,” a black-controlled newspaper, and in 1847 together with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison began publishing the “North Star” newspaper. In the 1850s, Delany became convinced that Whites would not allow deserving persons of color to become leaders in society and in his book, “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered,” he argued that blacks had no future in the United States and should leave and found a new nation elsewhere.
In 1863, he began recruiting black men for the Union Army to fight in the Civil War, raising thousands of enlistees, and in 1865 he was commissioned as a major, becoming the first black field officer in the U.S. Army. Following the war and the demise of the Reconstruction period, Delany helped form the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company with the intent to immigrate to Africa. However, he had to withdraw from the project due to family obligations. Delany’s biography, “Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism,” was published in 1971.