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Oral History Interview with Lemuel Delany, July 15, 2005. Interview R-0346. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Lemuel Delany was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1920 into a prominent African American family. The son of a doctor and a speech teacher, Delany describes growing up in the "black world" of segregated Raleigh and his growing awareness of racial discrimination as he grew older. In discussing his formative years, Delany offers information about race relations in the segregated South, his family's history dating back to the colonial era, and his family's interactions with an African American "who's who. " After finishing high school, Delany stayed in Raleigh for a few years, working as a garbage man and as a lifeguard. Because of the lack of economic opportunities, Delany moved to New York in 1942, where he lived in Harlem. Delany remained in New York for nearly sixty years before resettling in Raleigh. In New York, he worked briefly in a factory before establishing a career as a funeral director. Having spent considerable time in both the North and the South over the course of the twentieth century, Delany draws comparisons between the nature of segregation and race relations in both regions. In addition, he devotes considerable attention to a discussion of his reaction to Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, a book written by his aunts Sarah Louise "Sadie" Delany and Annie Elizabeth "Bessie" Delany. Delany argues that his aunts' book obscured the accomplishments of the entire Delany family by focusing too narrowly on their own lives. As he sees it, the "real" story about his family is one of upward mobility, beginning with an enslaved ancestor who established a name for himself following his emancipation. Finally, Delany offers his thoughts on the civil rights movement, arguing that the negative consequences of desegregation as seen in the demise of black economic, educational, and social institutions far outweighed its benefits. He further maintains that the NAACP failed to support African American enterprise.
  • Becoming aware of segregation and race relations
  • Comments on family's accomplishments and reaction to aunts' book
  • Interactions with the "Who's Who" of African Americans
  • Comparing southern and northern segregation
  • Disapproval of the NAACP for lack of support of African American business
  • Negative consequences of desegregation
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  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.