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Blake or The Huts of America: A novel by Martin R. Delany (1859-1862)

Martin R. Delany was born a free man on May 6, 1812 in Charleston, Virginia. He was known to be a man of many talents as was an on-again/off-again physician, was a political activist, an abolitionist leader, lecturer, newspaper editor and writer, and was a US army major. Delany is sometimes called the "first black nationalist" and is known for his unwavering commitment to complete equality and freedom for African-Americans and slaves. He wrote many political pieces on abolitionism, his novel "Blake" being one of his most famous. "Blake" was published in sections from November 1861 to May 1862 in the Weekly Anglo-African Magazine. The above is one of the most famous pictures of Delany, he was depicted as a hero because he one of the very few black men that held an official position in the Union army and had met President Lincoln on account of addressing the issue of the poor treatment of black soldiers. Delany was an influential recruiter of black men into the army. Martin Delany Video Biography part 1 part 2


Martin R. Delany's novel, Blake, or The Huts of America, originally appeared serially in The Anglo-African Magazine in 1859. At this time only the majority of Part 1 of his novel had been published. A reprint in 1861 in The Weekly Anglo-African provided the conclusion of the first part of his novel. It was not published as a book form novel including part 2 until 1970. Written as something of a response to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Delany was frustrated by Stowe's portrayal of black slaves as passive victims. One of the first black-authored novels to be published in America, Blake was based on Delany's own underground activities and stories told by friends who had been slaves, and it is seen as a generally accurate portrayal of insurrectionist efforts within slave communities. Up to the mid 20th century Blake was seen largely as an unimportant text of limited American cultural significance. However, after the American civil rights movement, literary scholars began to see the importance of Delany's revolutionary writing and the insights it could provide to misrepresented cultural theories of the time. For example, the idea that slaves were owned by only whites is found to be an extremely inaccurate account. Many Plantation owners who held slaves were Native American and Black. This of course clouds the issue of race and how minorities viewed their own race versus other races. Another important issue raised by Delany is the controversial view of Christianity among slaves. Delany rejects the traditional cornerstone of Christianity in "hope lies in salvation" because it does not speak to the wretchedness of a slave's life and how he is dehumanized and mistreated by his owner every day. Delany poses the question of how a white man of the same Christian faith as a slave can justify his actions unless his goal is oppression by promising a better afterlife through obedience in order to keep slaves docile and compliant. A contemporary scholar named Paul Gilroy also gives a reading of Blake that identifies key points relevant to the actual logistics and internal mechanisms of the slave trade, such as the relationship between northern ports and southern plantations. Gilroy also offers insight to the economic drive behind the slave trade and how the idea of property ownership and capitalism developed the current concepts regarding race.

A modern look into the history of Blake - The Lost Boy of Cuba: Canon Formation, Transatlantic Identity, and the Revolutionary Fiction of Martin R. Delany- by Benjamin O’Dell

The above is a painting by William Blake entitled "Europe Supported By Africa and America." It is a representation of the intimacies between three races of people throughout the colonization of the new world; Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans. William Blake also wrote a poem on the subject of race entitled The Little Black Boy by William Blake


Martin Delany's novel Blake or the Huts of America, tells the story of a black slave named Henry Holland who was born free. Henry is a well educated man who questions the moral implications of slave ownership and the passivity among slaves called for by Christianity. After learning his wife has been treacherously sold without his consent, Henry escapes from his master's Southern plantation in hopes of organizing a radical movement calling for the rebellion of slaves. Henry ultimately wants equal treatment for blacks and to find his beloved wife. In this story of heroic action and insurrection, Henry struggles to reconcile the idea of humans as property after finding slavery existing among Indian tribe plantation owners as well as black owned plantations. His journey carries him to many cities and countries where he gradually begins to unfold the truths about life and, more importantly, unfold the truth about himself.

Intimacies in Blake

In her essay, "The Intimacies of Four Continents" Lisa Lowe extends a different definition of the word "intimate". She intends for the readers to view it “as spatial proximity or adjacent connection" and as contact between "emigrants and slaves and slave-descendant peoples" (193, 203). Delany's "Blake" displays many examples of such intimacies between the characters. For example, the most obvious is the intimacy between slave and master. Both are very close to each other in ways and are inter-dependant on each other yet there is a disturbed balance because the slaves are very far from being equals to their "masters". "Blake" also demonstrates another one of Lisa Lowe's definitions of intimacy which is revolutionary contact (202) by employing a grand scheme of rebellion and freedom of the slaves in the mind of one of the main characters, Henry Holland. Another intimacy in "Blake" that is not to be missed is the intimacy of family and camaraderie which is demonstrated though Henry Holland's desire to travel and to tell his ideas to other slaves and through his almost instantaneous feeling of obligation and commitment to other slaves. He wants to every slave to be free, not just his family which displays an intimacy formed through similarity (that of being slaves and being controlled and manipulated by the whites).

More detail on Lisa Lowe

The Brown Society

Martin Delany's Blake is a story about a Heroic Slave that fights against black oppression with the force of rebellion. After finding out his wife had been mistreated and sold as an animal to the next vicious buyer, Henry questions those around him and begins his search for his true identity in this violent, racist society. In his adventure, Henry comes to terms about himself and most importantly learns the ways of the white society and is able to use it in order to gain power. To overcome this empowerment whites have had on his people, his great plan was to gather the blacks of all types and resist the white power. Throughout the novel, Henry continues to struggle to find freedom as he sees the truths about the world and finds the explanations as to why blacks have yet to over their oppression. It is evident to the reader that the author's intention for the character of Henry is to portray the role as of Moses who was the leader of the Jews. As Henry overcomes the "spits of fire" he finds his destiny to lead the "true" black people into the promise land where equality reigns and oppression in non-existent. Similar to the biblical teaching of Moses, according to Delany, African Americans are not to give into their oppression but to band together and fight for their rights and equality. The only way for African Americans to gain equality is for them to stick together and to not side with the whites. The term "Brown Society" comes from Henry and how he views South Carolina. Henry considers South Carolina as the hatred state that is truly against blacks. He states, "The studied policy of whites evidently is to keep the blacks in subjection and their spirits below a sentiment of self-respect". Delany uses this detailed description to describe the people of the Brown Society. Henry was beside himself when a Mulatto guard attempted to resist him as he was trying to cross into another territory. Delany shows this scene to expose how the Brown Society worked against its own desires and passions and takes away any chance of obtaining what they desire. His purpose to show how Mulatto differentiates themselves from those of darker complexion and sees themselves in a higher hierarchy but by all means remain inferior to the white society. He points out the importance of understanding the relationship between mulattos and whites and how mulattos are considered white in the viewing of blacks because they full heartedly gave in the way of "whiteness". Delany also suggest that racism does not only exist within the white community but through mind warping and limited security racism has extended beyond white people and continued through the mulatto people. Blacks started out separated from the world as a whole but with the help of whites has been separated within themselves. Values and cultures have been altered and distorted with racism. With the separation within blacks themselves, Henry's chance for a fight for rights is postponed for a later renaissance for equality for all men.

"One Nation under A Groove" A song on Equality

Selected Exerpts

“I tell you once for all, Daddy Joe, that I'm not only 'losing' but I have altogether lost my faith in the religion of my oppressors. As they are our religious teachers, my estimate of the thing they give is no greater than it is for those who give it.”

“The difference between a white man and Indian holding slaves. Indian work side by side with black man, eat with him, drink with him, rest with him and both lay down in shade together; white man even won't let you talk! In our Nation Indian and black all marry together. Indian like black man very much, ony he don't fight 'nough. Black man in Florida fight much, and Indian like 'im heap!”

“You make, sir, a slight mistake about my people. They would fight if in their own country they were united as the Indians here, and not scattered thousands of miles apart as they are. You should also remember that the Africans have never permitted a subjugation of their country by foreigners as the Indians have theirs, and Africa today is still peopled by Africans, whilst America, the home of the Indian—who is fast passing away—is now possessed and ruled by foreigners.”

"Whites came in small numbers to America, and then drove the Indians from their own soil, whilst the blacks got in Africa as slaves, are taken by their own native conquerors, and sold to white men as prisoners of war.”

"The squaws of the great men among the Indians in Florida were black women, and the squaws of the black men were Indian women. You see the vine that winds around and holds us together. Don't cut it, but let it grow till bimeby, it git so stout and strong, with many, very many little branches attached, that you can't separate them. I now reach to you the pipe of peace and hold out the olive-branch of hope! Go on young man, go on. If you want white man to love you, you must fight im!”


Henry Holland finds himself among Native American slaveholders. This is a stark contrast to the usual assumption that all slaveholders were white which Delany uses to reveal a significant cause for the continued existence of slavery. Slavery continues to exist during this time because of the lack of personal ties to the land. Henry learns that the Native Americans and Blacks work side by side together, rest together, socialize together, and even marry together (86). This is a departure from the traditional role of White masters and Black servants as the slaves are seen and treated as human, yet still held has property. While the slaves are treated better than their white plantation counterparts, they still do not question their bondage or push for freedom. This raises the question of the Black man’s inadequate desire to fight. Henry believes their lack of eagerness to rebel stems from the fact that America is not their land and that they have been scattered across it with no sense of kinship. In this way Delany delivers his message that Black men sold into slavery from Africa and brought to America feel they have no connection to the people, rights to the land, and therefore no desire to hope for better regardless of how they are treated.

However, Delany does use this encounter to offer solutions to the problem of Black men feeling unable to attain freedom and equality. Henry and the Native American Chief both provide their assessment of how to bring about an end to slavery. Henry believes the answer lies in organization, unification, and rebelling. To this end Henry states that “they would fight if in their own country they were united” (86). He believes that he must unify the slaves and fight the White man to force the recognition of equality and freedom among Blacks. However, the Chief believes that interracial marriages will strengthen the concept of humanity and unity while weakening discrimination because it will become harder and harder to tell people apart by race. This will cause all men to recognize their equality and fraternal bonds, since their families and friends will consist of intermixed races, and it will also strengthen their ties to the land as a true home. With either approach Black slaves can gain hope for reformation of the social order.

Delany includes this portrayal of slavery to show the development of racial differences and culture that existed specifically because of the separation of rights. The Native Americans were able to become land owners because of rights granted by the American government due to their historical inhabitation of the land. Their right to own land also incorporated the ownership of human beings. Since foreign Blacks had no rights because they were imported from Africa for labor, they became slaves to land owners. Thus the initial segregation of people occurred from the right to own land. This segregation was further differentiated into racial segregation simply because of the ethnic groupings that naturally occurred when distinguishing natives from foreigners. In conclusion, racial differences and culture ultimately developed from the establishment of rights for some and none for others simply because a person was classified as either a native or a foreigner.

Additional Resources

Paul Gilroy

What really ended slavery? - Paul Gilroy

The Black Atlantic - Paul Gilroy

Blake Part 1 - Complete Text

The Revolutionary Black Novels of Martin R. Delany and Sutton Griggs Roger Whitlow. MELUS, Vol. 5, No. 3, The Pressures of History (Autumn, 1978), pp. 26-36

The Lexicon of Rights, Power, and Community in Blake: Martin R. Delany's Dissent from Dred Scott Gregg D. Crane. American Literature, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 527-553

Martin Delany Biography, Additinal Information

William Blake Biography, Additional Work

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