Witnessing History

The Life and Times of the Delany Family

By Fiona Kyle, Artistic Apprentice


Henry Beard Delany is born in St. Marys, Georgia as a “house slave.”


Nanny James Logan is born in Danville, Virginia as an “issue-free Negro,” a person whose mother is not a slave.


The Civil War between the Union and the Confederate States ends May 9.

The 13th Amendment passes on January 31, 1865 and abolishes slavery in the United States.


Henry Delany marries his St. Augustine’s School classmate Nanny Logan, the class valedictorian.

The Delany Family, 1898  (Sadie left, Bessie at her feet)
The Delany Family, 1898
(Sadie left, Bessie at her feet)


Sarah Louse “Sadie” Delany, the second child of ten, is born to Henry and Nanny Delany.


Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, the third child in the Delany family, is born.


The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Plessy v. Ferguson to uphold the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. This ruling solidifies the establishment of the Jim Crow era.


Civil Rights Activists Moorfield Storey, Mary White Ovington, and W.E.B. Du Bois found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Halley’s Comet
Halley’s Comet


Halley’s Comet, the only known comet visible to the naked eye, makes its first appearance of the 20th century.


All Southern states have now imposed Jim Crow laws that relegate African Americans to a lower status than Caucasians.


Bessie moves to Harlem, New York, where Sadie moved the year prior.


Sadie graduates from the Pratt Institute and enrolls at Teachers College, Columbia University.


Bessie enrolls at the Columbia School of Dental and Oral Surgery at Columbia University.


Sadie graduates from Teachers College, Columbia University and begins teaching at P.S. 119 in Harlem.

American women win the right to vote when the 19th Amendment passes.

U.N.I.A. Parade in Harlem, 1924
U.N.I.A. Parade in Harlem, 1924


Bessie graduates from the Columbia School of Dental and Oral Surgery at Columbia University.


Sadie graduates with her Master’s Degree in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Bessie begins her dental practice at 2305 Seventh Avenue on 135th Street.


Henry Beard Delany dies at age 70. His funeral takes place in the chapel he designed at St. Augustine’s School.


The U.S. stock market crashes and sends the industrialized world into the Great Depression, which lasts for ten years.


Paul Robeson performs Othello in London.

Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial, 1939
Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial, 1939


Marian Anderson sings at the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her access to sing at Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigns her membership of the DAR.


Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in Major League Baseball, plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.


Bessie retires from her dental practice.

Due to his work as an activist, Paul Robeson is blacklisted from music halls, recording and film studios.


The Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education overturns the “separate but equal” system in educational facilities.

Rosa Parks on the bus
Rosa Parks on the bus


Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus and is arrested for civil disobedience in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organizes the Montgomery Bus Boycott.


Nanny Delany dies at the age of 95.


Sadie and Bessie move to Mount Vernon, New York.


Sadie retires from teaching.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1960 into law. The Act levies penalties to anyone who obstructs someone from attempting to register to vote and establishes federal inspection of voter registration polls.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream Speech
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
I Have A Dream Speech


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ends racial segregation in schools, at the work place, and other facilities for the general public.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy are assassinated.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination concerning sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, sex, and national origin.

The Delany Sisters
The Delany Sisters


Halley’s Comet returns. Sadie and Bessie witness it for the second time.


Amy Hill Hearth writes “Two ‘Maiden Ladies’ with Century-Old Stories to Tell” feature on the Delany sisters for The New York Times.


Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years written by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth is published.


Having Our Say, the play adapted by Emily Mann, opens on Broadway.

The Delany Sisters’ Book of Everyday Wisdom written by Amy Hill Hearth, A. Elizabeth Delany, and Sarah Delany is published.

Bessie dies at 104.


On My Own at 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie written by Amy Hill Hearth and Sarah Louise Delany is published.


The average life expectancy in the United States is 76.

Sadie dies at 109.