Martin Delany's Newspaper Writings in 'The Mystery'

The Mystery

Martin Delany's writing skills first appeared and developed in writing for his own newspaper in Pittsburgh, "The Mystery," These reports and editorials caught the eye of many journalists, since "The Mystery" was, for several years in the 1840s, the only newspaper published by African Americans. Often cited as a source of columns and opinion in newspapers including other mainstream newspapers and in William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper, "The Liberator," it was only a matter of time that Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany would meet and germinate together the idea of a new "black voice" newspaper, "The North Star."


"We shall most assuredly run clear of the quicksands of sectarianism, and are proud to hear such an expression from Mr. Clark, a leader in the great Bethel. We wish more of the heads were as he is. We can assure him, as all who are acquainted with our principles will testify, that we never will be grounded on the shoals of sectarianism.

"The Mystery," 1844 in reply to a letter submitted by Molliston M. Clark, former roommate and student with Delany. (Ullman, p. 54)


"The paper shall be free, independent and untrammeled and whilst it shall aim at the Moral Elevation of the Africo American and African race, civilly, politically and religiously, yet, it shall support no distinctive principles of race: no sectional distinctions, otherwise than such as may be necessary, for the establishment of true and correct principles pertaining to the universal benefit of man, since whatever is essentially necessary for the promotion and elevation of all classes; therefore our interests are, and should be, one and inseparable.

"We shall also aim at the different branches of Literary Sciences, the Mechanic Arts, Agriculture, and the elevation of Labor. We will ever combat error, and repel every species of usurpation and tyranny, and never be found compromising with oppression of any kind, however mild its character.

"The Mystery," 1845 (quoted in Ullman, pp. 60+61)


". . .For upwards of four years this paper has been afloat upon the breeze, during which time, except for three months when it was edited by the Committee, we have stood at the helm of our steady little barque, steering right onward for the continent of Liberty and Equality.

If ever we have touched successfully any of her ports, we leave to those who have been the constant observers to decide. . . The position that we assumed was to claim for our oppressed fellow countrymen both bond and free, every right and privilege belonging to man, holding as an indispensable prerequisite, that whatever is necessary for the elevation of the whites, is necessary for the colored.

"In order the more fully to illustrate the truthfulness of this position, we had frequently to touch subjects that at once affected the pride and interest of our brethren, who often in consequence looked upon us more as an injurer than as a friend. But our determination being perseverance, and our course onward, we had not long been toiling without the popular tide, and current of our people's errors, until the young people, particularly of the West, were aroused to a quickening sense of their condition, and in many cases inexcusable postions in society, and we at one time, had the astonishment as well as the pleasure of seeing ELEVEN papers spring up in different parts of the country, all of which joined issue with us, advocating the very same doctrines, or commending our course.

". . . And we can safely say, in no period of our modern existence, were the talents of the colored people, male and female, developed to such an extent as since the existence of our paper. . . .We have ever since gone on steadily and stealthily, until the present date, fulfilling to the letter our promise as editor and assisting the Publishers (Committee) in the fulfillment of theirs; though as we have frequently noticed, gave our services, gratuitously to the cause, as well, as a position of our private means, earned by our daily business.

"We admit that we have fallen far short of what might have been effected in the same time, the paper frequently appearing quite cold and spiritless, but this could not be avoided, as we had our daily labor to perform to earn out bread. . .'The Mystery' is still afloat, with the solemn promise of the Publishers, to keep her tiding on the broad waters of destiny, doing battle in the great struggle for liberty and right, elevation and equality, God and humanity.

"We leave 'The Mystery' for a union with the far famed and world renowned Frederick Douglass, as a co laborer, in the cause of our oppressed brethren, by the publication of a large and capacious paper, 'The North Star' in Rochester, N.Y., in which our whole time, energy and services will be given, which cannot fail to be productive of signal benefit to the slave and our nominally free brethren when the head and heart of Douglass enters into the combination.

"We feel loath to leave our 'Mystery' but duty calls and we must obey. To our brethren and oppressed fellow men everywhere we give the assurance that so long as reason serves as the dictator of our will we shall never cease to war against slavery and oppression of every kind and defend the cause of the oppressed. Readers and Patrons, as Editor of 'The Mystery,' we bid you farewell.

"The North Star," January 21, 1848 (as quoted in Ullman, pp.83+86)

Return to Home Page|Index