Local African American Trailblazers: Emma Beard Delaney

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 15, 2021

February 2021 has been designated National African American History Month.  The Fernandina Observer will highlight several local African Americans who have played an important role in our history throughout this month.

Emma Beard Delaney (1877-1922) (Photo courtesy the Amelia Island Museum of History)

Emma Beard Delaney (1877-1922) was born in Fernandina in 1871 to Daniel and Annie Delaney. Daniel was a respected pilot for the U.S. government on the revenue cutter “Boutwell.” Annie was an influential Christian of that time.

Following graduation in 1889 from the Fernandina Catholic Convent, Emma  Delaney went to Spellman College in Atlanta for both missionary and nursing training, graduating in 1896. In 1902, she became the first African-American female missionary to Africa. While on her missionary assignment, Emma helped to establish the Providence Industrial Mission in Nyasaland, now called Malawi. Seven years later, she returned to the U.S. where she lectured on her experiences and also began to raise money for a return to Africa.

In 1912, she traveled to Liberia and founded the Suehn Industrial mission, a coeducational high school, near Monrovia. The mission provided training in education, industrial arts, home economics, and healthcare. That mission operated into the late 1980s. While there, she converted many Africans to Christianity, including one young man named Daniel S. Malekebu. After Delaney later returned to the U.S., young Daniel ran away from his home to follow her. After a difficult three-month journey, he finally reached Fernandina, where he was reunited with his “Mother Delaney.” Through various educational sponsorship programs, he graduated from medical school and became a noted and celebrated physician. He later returned to Africa and founded schools and hospitals, thereby carrying on the work of Emma Delaney.

Delaney contracted hematuric fever and died in Fernandina Beach in October 1922. She was buried in Bosque Bello Cemetery.  The Women’s Mission and Education Convention of Florida unveiled a monument stone at Delaney’s burial site in Bosque Bello Cemetery in 1935. On August 26, 1979, the First Missionary Baptist Church in Fernandina Beach named its new education block Emma B. Delaney Fellowship Hall in Delaney’s honor.

She was recognized by the State of Florida as part of the The Great Floridians 2000 program. The program was designed to recognize individuals who distinguished themselves through their philanthropy, public service or personal or professional service, and who have enhanced the lives of Florida’s citizens. Her Great Floridian plaque is placed in the First Missionary Baptist Church, 22 South 9th Street, Fernandina Beach. 

Emma B. Delaney Day is celebrated in Florida Baptist Churches the third Sunday in May.

The author credits a variety of sources:  Stories from Bosque Bello , Find A Grave  , Wikipedia  ,  Great Floridians 2000  ; and the Amelia Museum of History 

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Richard Norman Kurpiers
Richard Norman Kurpiers (@guest_60469)
3 years ago

Thank you for sharing Emma B. Delaney’s story. Her uncle, Henry Beard Delaney, was also quite accomplished, as were many of the Delaney descendants.

While we’re on the subject of local African American trailblazers, I wish there were more information on Henry McQueen who lived and owned property in Old Town Fernandina during the early 19th century. What little I’ve been able to find out is mostly centered on his life prior to being granted a half-peonia lot in Old Town in 1814. What happened to him, and his descendants (if any), after that is unknown to me.