(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The story of the Delany sisters’ long lives describes and symbolizes the journey of freed African Americans after the Civil War, which the sisters refer to as “the Surrender.” While Henry Delany was born into slavery, he was among the fortunate few slaves who were taught to read. He believed success for his people depended on the success of one individual after another. He devoted himself to education and self-preservation, sequestering his family within the confines of a religious and educational community. However, there was no complete protection from bigotry and cruelty. Adopting their family’s values and life skills, Sadie and Bessie developed their own ways of staying safe, coping, and maintaining a positive attitude toward life. They constantly nurtured and enjoyed the support of their large family and of the large culturally and educationally sophisticated community they lived in, both in Raleigh and in Harlem. Working hard, focusing on what they could do, they tactfully made a niche for themselves, developing nourishing habits of mind and body. Eating garlic, consuming vitamins and minerals, doing yoga, and taking care of themselves (including protecting themselves from the outside world by having no telephone), the two ladies persevered as charming and idiosyncratic icons, not only of African Americans, but also of Everywoman.