Although he was only a little boy, Henry B. Delany, the Delany Sisters’ beloved Papa, would never forget the day in 1865 that Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union at Appomattox Court House. Henry Delany and his family were slaves in St. Mary’s, Georgia.
“He remembered being in the kitchen and wearing a little apron, which little slave boys wore in those days,” the Delany Sisters recalled in the book we created together, Having Our Say. “It had one button at the top, at the back of the neck, and the ends were loose. And when the newsof the Surrender came, he said he ran about the house with that apron fluttering behind him, yelling, ‘Freedom! Freedom! I am free! I am free!’ “
The little boy grew to be a remarkable man who went to college and became Vice-Principal of St. Augustine’s School (now College) in Raleigh, N.C. Later in life, he became the first Black elected Bishop in the Episcopal Church USA.
His two eldest daughters, Sadie and Bessie, who became famous in the 1990s as the centenarian Delany Sisters, adored their father. Decades after his death in 1928, the sisters celebrated his birthday as if he were about to walk into the room. They cooked all of his favorite foods, including a dessert called ambrosia. I was there for several of those remarkable celebrations.
Bishop Delany’s birthday is on my mind because he was born 159 years ago tomorrow – February 5, 1858. I think I’ll honor him by making ambrosia, just as the sisters did, year after year.