Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ first 100 Years, is an interesting, entertaining and enlightening book by Sadie and Bessie Delany both over 100 years old.
Their father, Henry Beard Delany was a house-slave, seven years old at the civil war “surrender.” He became the one of the first negro Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and we celebrate his feast day on April 14. Their mother, Nannie James Delany, born free, was valedictorian of Henry’s class at St. Augustine, a North Carolina seminary and teachers college founded by Episcopal Clergy in 1867 for the education of freed slaves.
The sisters, two of ten children, recount their childhood on the school campus, where both parents eventually became faculty. Later the sisters’ paths led to Harlem where they graduated from Columbia University. Bessie, became a certified dentist, and Sadie with a MA in Education, a teacher. Eventually all of the siblings migrated to Harlem, and became successful professionals. Their mother joined them after their father died.
I had ignorantly thought that the Jim Crow, segregation laws were in place directly after the civil war, and was surprised to discover that they actually came much later. This created several amusing, and occasionally scary, stories and choices in a family of many shades of brown — “I prefer the word colored,” one of the sisters said.
The voices of the two very different sisters, and their perspectives of history is lively, easy to read, and uplifting. They were brilliant, incredibly hardworking, and solidly self-reliant, with strong faith, personal integrity, familial loyalty and dignity in the face of many difficulties. The Delanys were forerunners in lives that intersected with the ideological growth, shifting social mores, and historically important events and people of our country.
This book came my way through our monthly Literary Party. We decide on a theme and everyone brings a book to talk about. July’s topic was African American History / Experience. Melinda, who often finds an odd and intriguing memoir that matches the theme, brought Having Our Say. I recommend it highly. The book is available at the public library, and there’s also a few reads left in this copy which I’m happy to pass around.