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

Above:  Sadie, Bessie, and Hubert Delany

Fair Use Images

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SARAH LOUISE “SADIE” DELANY (SEPTEMBER 19, 1889-JANUARY 25, 1999)

African-American Educator

sister of

ANNIE ELIZABETH “BESSIE” DELANY (SEPTEMBER 3, 1891-SEPTEMBER 25, 1995)

African-American Dentist

and their brother

HUBERT THOMAS DELANY (MAY 11, 1901-DECEMBER 28, 1990)

African-American Attorney, Judge, and Civil Rights Activist

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INTRODUCTION

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.

SADIE AND BESSIE (I)

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

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 (II)

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.

CONCLUSION

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

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 11, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAPHNUTIUS THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF UPPER THEBAID

THE FEAST OF ANNE HOULDITCH SHEPHERD, ANGLICAN NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN STAINER AND WALTER GALPIN ALCOCK, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATIENS OF LYONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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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

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