Skip to main content


June 2024
1min read

We Delanys had no money at all. We were perceived as an elite family, since our parents were college-educated and had important jobs. But honestly, money was very tight. We bought all our clothes at the mission store, and only one time in my childhood do I recall having a new outfit. That was when some white missionaries in New England sent all the Delany children brand-new clothes one Christmas.

Another time, the missionaries gave Bessie and me these beautiful china dolls. Those dolls were white, of course. You couldn’t get a colored doll like that in those days. Well, I loved mine just the way it was, but do you know what Bessie did? She took an artist’s palette they had also given us and sat down and mixed the paints until she came up with a shade of brown that matched her skin. Then she painted that white doll’s face! None of the white missionaries ever said a word about it. Mama and Papa just smiled.

Papa was as good a man as you could find in America, or anywhere else for that matter. He was highly intelligent, with many interests and hobbies. The one I remember best was astronomy. On a clear night he would take us all outside and teach us the names of the planets and star constellations. Papa was so excited when Halley’s comet came by. He had us all outside that night, and it was a sight to see, flickering light across the landscape. Papa said, “I don’t think any of us will be here to see Halley’s comet the next time it comes around.” Well, he was wrong about that, ‘cause Bessie and I saw it again, and it wasn’t as good the second time.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.