Archive for the ‘Bessie Delany’ Tag

Feast of Sarah Louise Delany, Annie Elizabeth Delany, and Hubert Thomas Delany (September 25)   Leave a comment

Above:  Sadie, Bessie, and Hubert Delany

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African-American Educator

sister of


African-American Dentist

and their brother


African-American Attorney, Judge, and Civil Rights Activist



The Episcopal Church has, in recent years, made the transition from having one calendar of saints (Lesser Feasts and Fasts, most recently revised in 2018; previously revised in 2006) to two calendars of saints, with the optional Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010) and its successor, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016).  Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, although expanded from Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006, still commemorates fewer saints than the optional books.  It also remains the official calendar of saints for the denomination.

The Episcopal Church usually permits a minimum of four decades to pass before it adds someone to either of its calendars of saints, for the Anglican position is that history makes saints.  The passage of time allows for perspective, which is what separates history from journalism.  The denomination does make a few exceptions to the “reasonable passage of time” guideline, however, as in the case of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., one of Hubert Thomas Delany‘s clients, added at the General Convention of 1988, two decades after the great civil rights leader’s assassination.  The Appendix to A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016) contains a list of people deemed worthy of remaining in the institutional church’s memory yet who have not met the “reasonable passage of time” rule yet.  That list includes the Delany sisters, noted for their lives devoted to public service.  I add their brother Hubert also, for the same rationale.  The three siblings belong on this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.

The Delanys were a remarkable family.  Bishop Henry Beard Delany, Sr. (1858-1928)added to Holy Women, Holy Men at the General Convention of 2009, was a great man.  His wife, Nannette Logan James (1861-1956), was a great woman.  He, born a slave in St. Marys, Georgia, became an Episcopal priest and, in the last decade of his life, a bishop who ministered to African Americans in several southeastern states.  Both partners in the marriage were educators attached to St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, North Carolina.  Nannette was the chief matron.  Henry was an administrator, a faculty member, the college chaplain, a college architect, and a musician, also.  The Delanys challenged Jim Crow in their society and institutional racism in The Episcopal Church.  Henry, in particular, was a threat to certain powerful, racist elements in the denomination.  The Delanys raised their ten children well.  Growing up in Raleigh at the time exposed the younger Delanys to Jim Crow laws and to news of lynchings.  Most of the Delany children grew up to make great contributions to society.  Their number included educators, musicians, a mortician, a jurist, and doctors of various specialties.


Sarah Louise “Sadie” Delany (1889-1999) and Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany (1891-1995) were a pair.  Both of them studied at St. Augustine’s College to become teachers.  Sadie left for New York City first.  She arrived in 1916, and eventually graduated from the Teachers College of Columbia University.  Sadie became the first African-American woman allowed to teach high school home economics in New York City.  Bessie arrived in the “Big Apple” in 1918.  She, denied admission to the dental program at New York University because of her gender, matriculated at Columbia University instead.  Bessie, graduating in 1923, became the second African-American woman licensed to practice dentistry in the city.  She was, to many of her clients, “Dr. Bessie, Harlem’s colored woman dentist.”  For many years Bessie and brother Henry Beard Delany, Jr. (1895-1991) had a private practice.  They charged affordable fees and never turned anyone away.  The sisters never married, for, at the time, married women seldom had their own careers.  Meanwhile, they were part of the Harlem Renaissance scene.  Notable friends and associates included W. E. B. DuBois, Paul Robeson (one of Hubert’s clients), and Langston Hughes.  Sadie and Bessie shared an apartment in Manhattan until 1928, when their father, the bishop, died.  Then they and their mother moved into a house in the Bronx.  After Nannette died in 1956, Sadie and Bessie purchased a two-family house in Mount Vernon, New York.  Both sisters died in their sleep in that house many years later.


Hubert Thomas Delany (1901-1990) went into law.  He graduated from the City College of New York (Class of 1923) and the New York University School of Law (Class of 1926).  College jobs included working on a farm, working as a Pullman car porter, and teaching elementary school in Harlem.  Throughout his career Hubert championed the causes of unjustly marginalized members of society.  From 1926 to 1933 he was Assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  In 1926 Hubert married Clarissa Mae Scott (1901-1927), a poet who was part of the Harlem Renaissance.  She was also an educator, an essayist, and a social worker associated with the National Urban League.  She died of kidney disease in 1927, sadly.  The widower ran (as a Republican) for the vacant U.S. House seat representing Harlem in 1929; he won about 40% of the votes cast.  Hubert did, however, come to the attention of Fiorello La Guardia (1882-1947), Mayor of New York City from 1933 to 1945.  Mayor La Guardia appointed our saint to the Tax Commission.  In 1939 Hubert, as attorney of Marian Anderson, helped to arrange for her famous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In 1942 Hubert married Willietta S. Mickey (1907-2000), who had been his secretary when he had served on the Tax Commission.  Mayor La Guardia presided at the ceremony.  Willetta was also a mover and a shaker for good; she founded Adopt-A-Child, to help place minority children in adoptive families.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt supported this initiative publicly.

Hubert was a judge of the Family Court of New York City from 1942 to 1955.  He became a respected expert on juvenile issues, such as delinquency.  He, known as a fair judge, nevertheless incurred the wrath of reactionaries, who accused him of being too liberal, especially in the context of McCarthyism.  Hubert, outspoken in his support of civil rights, opposed loyalty oaths to the U.S. Government and defended the right of Socialists and Communists to be Socialists and Communists.  When our saint ceased to be a family court judge, politics was the reason.

Hubert was, by some standards, a radical, as he should have been.  He, for many year a member of the boards of the NAACP and its Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued that the organization’s civil rights strategy was too conservative.  He also appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1956 and 1958 to represent people accused of being members of the Communist Party.  In 1963 Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed our saint the chairman of the temporary State Commission on Low-Income Housing, informally the Delany Commission.  The commission proposed that the state subsidize low-income housing in middle-class neighborhoods.  The commission’s work led to the expansion of affordable housing in the State of New York.  Later in life Hubert also worked on issues related to the education of and health care for minorities.

Hubert, aged 89 years, died in New York on December 28, 1990.


Sadie and Bessie outlived their siblings.  They joked that they lived as long as they did because they had no husbands to worry them to death.  Seriously, though, the sisters maintained healthy lifestyles, minimized stress, and retained their faculties.  Their book, Having Our Say:  The Delany Sisters’ First 100 years (1993), spent 28 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List.  The following year they published their second book, The Delany Sisters’ Book of Everyday Wisdom.  Bessie, aged 104 years, died on September 25, 1995.  She, having broken her hip the previous year, never recovered.  Sadie lived to the age of 109 years.  She died in her sleep on January 25, 1999.  During her final few years Sadie missed her sister, hence the book On My Own at 107:  Reflections on Life Without Bessie.


Sadie, Bessie, and Hubert Delany witnessed the world change profoundly.  They also acted to change that world for the bettter.









Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servants

Sarah Louise “Sadie” Delany, Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, and Hubert Thomas Delany,

to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your Name,

through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60


Feast of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany (April 14)   2 comments

Episcopal Flag

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Image Source = Zscout370



Episcopal Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work, Diocese of Arkansas and the Province of the Southwest


HENRY BEARD DELANY, SR. (MAY 5, 1858-APRIL 14, 1928)

Episcopal Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work, Diocese of North Carolina


In 2016 the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is Michael Curry, an African American.  The fact that he leads the denomination testifies to the reality of how much The Episcopal Church has changed for the better since the days of Bishops Demby and Delany, in large part due to their efforts.  The fact that the denomination commemorates their lives on April 14 is also positive.

First I will explain the types of bishops germane to this post.  A diocesan bishop leads his or her diocese.  A bishop coadjutor serves under a diocesan prior to succeeding him or her automatically.  A suffragan bishop serves under a diocesan bishop without the right of succession.  A suffragan bishop can, however, become a diocesan bishop via election and confirmation to that post.  An old joke illustrates the difference between a bishop coadjutor and a suffragan bishop.  A suffragan bishop asks his her diocesan bishop,

How are you?,

but a bishop coadjutor asks his or her diocesan bishop,

How are you feeling?

Edward Thomas Demby, V, and Henry Beard Delany, Sr., were pioneers in the struggle for social justice in The Episcopal Church.  In 1918 the Church consecrated them Suffragan Bishops for Colored Work.  They were under the authority of White bishops and subject to an ecclesiastical establishment frequently insensitive to social equality.  Suffragan bishops could not even vote in the House of Bishops until 1946.  Demby and Delany were second-class bishops, but they remained faithful in their labors for Jesus.


Demby, some said after he died, could have eradicated racism by good example alone, if that were possible.  He entered the world at Wilmington, Delaware, on February 13, 1869.  His parents, who had never been slaves, were Edward Thomas Demby, IV, and Mary Anderson Tippett Demby.  Our saint’s education started locally and in his community.  Then he studied at the following schools, in chronological order:

  • The Institute for Colored Youth, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
  • Centenary Bible Institute, Baltimore, Maryland;
  • Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio; and
  • The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

Demby, originally a Methodist, left the church John Wesley made for the church that made John Wesley.  Our saint became a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) in 1894, the same year he began to serve as Dean of Students at Paul Quinn College, Dallas, Texas.  In 1895, however, Demby converted to The Episcopal Church.  John F. Spalding, the Bishop of Colorado, became our saint’s mentor and sent him to Tennessee.  There, 1898, Demby joined the ranks of the Sacred Order of Deacons.  He became a priest the following year.  In Tennessee our saint served as the Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Macon, the principal of the parochial school, and the vice principal of Hoffman Hall.  From 1900 to 1907 Demby served churches in Cairo, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; and Florida.  In 1902 he married his second wife, Antoinette Ricks, a nurse.  (His first wife, Polly Alston Sherill Demby, had died a few years prior.)  In 1907 Demby became the Rector of Emmanuel Church, Memphis, Tennessee.  In time he came to double as the Secretary of the Southern Colored convocations and as the Archdeacon for Colored Work in the Diocese of Tennessee.  In matters of racial policy he sided with W.E.B. DuBois against Booker T. Washington.

Demby had a difficult time as Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work.  He began that work on September 29, 1918, when he became the first African-American Suffragan Bishop in The Episcopal Church.  Until 1922 Demby had no salary, and the salary he received starting in 1922 was relatively meager.  Neither did our saint have an official residence.  He started with a few small congregations in Arkansas and sought to grow them and to found more churches in Arkansas and the Southwest, but financial restraints and White leadership hobbled those efforts.  Nevertheless, Demby did help to found the Christ Church Parochial and Industrial School, Forrest City, Arkansas, and recruited teachers for it.  He also recruited priests and worked with African-American orphanages, schools, and hospitals.

Matters went from bad to worse for Demby in 1932.  The diocesan convention elected a new bishop, but Demby and White allies detected racism in the procedures.  They protested the election and its result to the national church successfully, so The Episcopal Church overturned the election result.  This angered certain prominent churchmen in Arkansas.  They interfered with Demby’s work, rendering him a bishop in name only.  He turned his attention to national church efforts to resist racism.  This work continued after he retired in 1939.

Demby remained active in retirement.  He served churches in Kansas and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Cleveland, Ohio.  At the General Convention of 1940 he stood up for the desegregation of The Episcopal Church, helping to defeat a proposal to place African-American congregations in separate missionary districts.  Within 15 years the segregated dioceses integrated.  Demby lived long enough to see that happen and to witness Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the approving statement by the Bishop of Arkansas.

Demby died at Cleveland, Ohio, on April 14, 1957.  He was 88 years old.  His written legacy included devotional and theological books:

  1. Devotions of the Cross and at the Holy Mass;
  2. My Companion;
  3. A Bird’s Eye View of Exegetical Studies;
  4. The Writings of Saints Paul and James;
  5. The Holy Sacrament of the Altar and Penance; and
  6. The Manual of the Guild of One More Soul.


Demby’s co-saint for April 14 is Henry Beard Delany, Sr., the Bishop Suffragan, Diocese of North Carolina (1918-1928).

Delany rose from slavery to the episcopate.  He entered the world at St. Marys, Georgia, on May 5, 1858.  His father was Thomas Sterling Delany (1810-1890), a carpenter, plasterer, and brick layer.  Our saint’s mother was Sarah Elizabeth Delany (1814-1891), a domestic servant.  After the Civil War the family moved to Fernandina Beach, Florida, where Delany worked on the family farm and learned carpentry, plastery, and brick laying from is father.  The Delanys were Methodists, but, in 1881, the local Episcopal priest funded a scholarship for our saint to attend St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, North Carolina, a school founded by Episcopal priests for freedmen in 1867.

Delany lived on the campus of St. Augustine’s College for the rest of his life.  He graduated in 1885 then joined the faculty, teaching masonry and carpentry as well as supervising building projects.  In 1886 he married Nanny James (1861-1956).  The couple had ten children from 1887 to 1906.  Nanny taught at St. Augustine’s College also; the family lived on campus.  Delany, Vice Principal from 1899 to 1908, became a deacon in 1889 and a priest in 1892.  He served as the campus chaplain and musician, was the architect for the Norman-style chapel, and oversaw the construction of the library (1898) and the hospital (1909).  That was the only hospital to serve area African Americans until 1940.  In 1908 Delany became the Archdeacon for Negro Work in the Diocese of North Carolina.

As Suffragan Bishop for Negro Work Delany served not only in the Diocese of North Carolina but also in the Dioceses of East Carolina, Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Upper South Carolina.  He did this for ten years until he died at home, in Raleigh, on April 14, 1928.  He was 69 years old.

Bishop Delany also resisted racism in The Episcopal Church and in society.  He died prior to the civil rights movement, but his ten children blazed trails.  For example,  Lemuel Delany (1861-1956) became a surgeon.  Sarah Louise Delany (1889-1999) was an educator.  Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany (1891-1995) became a dentist.  These two sisters were the topics of Having Our Say (1991), an oral history.  Hubert Thomas Delany (1901-1990) became an attorney then a judge.  His clients included Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The influence of Bishop Delany was evident in his children.


Michael Curry, who served as the Bishop of North Carolina prior to his elevation to Presiding Bishop, spoke of the arrangement of portraits of bishops at the diocesan headquarters to the 194th Annual Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina on January 22, 2010.  He noted that, in the former, suburban Raleigh headquarters, the portraits of the diocesan bishops hung in one wing of the building and the portraits of the suffragan bishops hung in another wing thereof.  The design of the building made integrating those sets of portraits difficult.  In time, however, the diocese moved its headquarters into Raleigh proper.  Curry ordered that, at the new Diocesan House, the portraits of the bishops–diocesan and suffragan–hang together and in chronological order of consecration.  Curry explained the unintentional symbolism of hanging the portraits in separate wings and the intentional symbolism of integrating the sets of portraits:

Now the portraits hang not in any order that recalls Jim Crow, but in the gospel lineage of Simon Peter, Augustine of Canterbury, and Samuel Seabury.

Crazy Christians:  A Call to Follow Jesus (2013), page 122

Bishops Demby and Delany would have approved.









Loving God, we thank you for the ministries of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany,

bishops of your Church who, though limited by segregation, served faithfully to your honor and glory.

Assist us, we pray, to break trough the limitations of our own time,

that we may minister in obedience to Jesus Christ;

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Malachi 2:5-7

Psalm 119:161-168

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

John 4:31-36

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 327