(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 Hill.
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.
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 death."
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."