The Condition, Elevation, Migration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered Essay - Critical Context

Martin Robison Delany

Critical Context

The publication of The Condition thrust Delany into the forefront of the emigrationist movement and officially dates his emergence as a leading Black Nationalist. It represents the shift from condition to race as a key factor in shaping the responses of African Americans to their experience. It was, in fact, the first part of an intellectual effort to provide an ideological conception of the black experience following the crises and confusion unleashed by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. It sounded the alarm and became the bible of Black Nationalism. Emigration quickly assumed a forceful dimension, reaching a climax at a national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in August, 1854.

The book is not merely a commentary on race relations in the United States. It is also a pioneering work in the evolution of slavery and racism, and many of its conclusions have been sustained by modern scholars. One example is Delany’s contention that practical necessity (the need for a dependable, cheap, and productive labor force), rather than racism, led to the enslavement of Africans. Racism developed later to justify and legitimize an accomplished fact.

Delany used the experience of free blacks in the Northern states and the Fugitive Slave Act to reveal a consensus on black inferiority that cut across sectional boundaries, thus debunking the myth of the free and open North. By emphasizing this national consensus, the book reveals striking similarities in the experience of free blacks and slaves. More than anything else, The Condition provides graphic insight into the complexities of the African American experience. Black people had contributed their labor, sweat, and blood to the development of the nation, yet they had been denied rights and privileges. Nevertheless, many refused to give up on America. This deep, emotional attachment to a society that denied African Americans their rights and trampled on their dignity was a peculiarity of nineteenth century Black Nationalism, and no black leader more perfectly epitomized this tendency than Delany himself. Toward the end of the book, he expressed deep love for the United States. Emigration suddenly seemed like a reluctant choice, with potential emigrants described as “adopted” children of their host nations.