From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Surviving Delany sister laid to rest in North Carolina

From Daphne Mack <>
Date 24 Feb 1999 09:45:20

Surviving Delany sister laid to rest in North Carolina

by E. T. Malone, Jr.
(ENS) Sarah Louise Delany, last surviving child of Bishop 
Henry Beard Delany, was laid to rest in Raleigh, North Carolina, 
February 1 in Mount Hope Cemetery on a quiet hillside in the city 
where she was born 109 years ago.

Miss Delany, known familiarly as "Sadie," was thrust into 
the national limelight in the last decade of her life after she 
and her centenarian sister Elizabeth "Bessie" Delany, a retired 
dentist, in 1993 authored a book called Having Our Say: The Delany 
Sisters' First 100 Years. It recounted their experiences growing 
up in the segregated South and later in New York during the Harlem 
Renaissance of the 1920s.

They had been "discovered" by Amy Hill Hearth, a writer on 
assignment for The New York Times, who had visited them in 1991 to 
write a feature story about these unusual sisters who had both 
passed the 100-year mark and still lived together alone in their 
own home. Fascinated with their intelligence, wit, and humor, and 
realizing the uniqueness of their view of 20th century American 
history, Hearth convinced the Delany sisters to tell their story 
and she helped them write the book.

Instantly popular, the volume found itself on The New York 
Times best-seller list and spawned a theatre version that toured 
the country.  Hearth worked with the sisters to publish The Delany 
Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom in 1994. After her sister 
Elizabeth's death in 1995, Sadie Delany, at age 107, wrote a third 
book called On My Own. Ironically, just two days after her 
funeral, the theatre version of Having Our Say was scheduled to be 
performed by the Playmakers Repertory Company in nearby Chapel 

Fifth generation speaks
Brandi Delany, the 18-year-old great-grandniece of Sadie, 
said in a brief eulogy before the packed funeral congregation at 
St. Augustine's Chapel that she was not sad. "I grew up knowing 
of her as Aunt Sadie, a lady lively for her age. It wasn't until 
reading the book that I really learned about what Aunt Sadie and 
Dr. Bessie accomplished. They were not just a home economics 
teacher and a dentist, but pioneers. Aunt Sadie was the kind of 
strong woman that I aspire to become. It is appropriate that we 
say goodbye to her on the campus of St. Augustine's College, where 
she always felt at home."

Delany, born September 19, 1889, was one of 10 children of 
Henry Beard Delany (1858-1928) and Nanny Logan Delany (1861-1956).
Her father, born a slave, graduated from St. Augustine's College 
in Raleigh and was employed there as a teacher, later becoming 
vice-president. He was called to the Episcopal priesthood and in 
1918 consecrated as Suffragan Bishop of North Carolina, the first 
African-American ever elected bishop in the Episcopal Church. 
Continuing to reside in the Delany cottage on the  St. Augustine's 
campus, he served as bishop until his death 10 years later. Mrs. 
Delany was matron of the school, teaching what was then called 
"domestic sciences," and the Delany Building, still in use today, 
was named in her honor.

Cheerleaders for change
Following in her mother's footsteps, Sadie Delany became the 
first home economics teacher of color in the New York Public 
School System.  Bessie became only the second woman of color 
licensed to practice dentistry in New York. They both taught 
school in the South for years to save money to move to New York, 
where Sadie received her undergraduate degree from Columbia 
University in 1920 and her master's degree in 1925. The sisters 
were lifelong companions and never married, attributing their long 
lives to the fact that "we never had husbands to worry us to 

Already elderly by the time of the civil rights movement of 
the 1960s, they were active cheerleaders of change in American 
society. When their first book was published, they urged that it 
be viewed not as black history, or feminine history, but as 
American history.

Although they met many celebrities, the sisters stuck to 
their beliefs. "The whole time in Harlem, we lived the same way 
that we did in Raleigh," Sadie wrote. "We didn't change our 
values or behavior one bit. Every Sunday was the Lord's day, and 
you could find us, sure as daylight, at St. Martin's Episcopal 
Church. We were very proud of the Delany name, and because of our 
self-discipline it came to mean in Harlem what it had meant in 
North Carolina-that is, it stood for integrity."

--Ted Malone is communications officer for the Diocese of North 

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