Beverly C. Tomek

A “Pilgrimage” to the “Motherland” or an Imperialistic Exploration: Martin R. Delany and Robert Campbell in Africa

Martin Delany and Robert Campbell explored Africa in 1859 in hope of finding an ideal location to create a settlement of black Americans. By this point Delany was known as one of the main proponents of emigration in the U.S. and has since been referred to by historians as the “Father of Black Nationalism.” Campbell, a Jamaican immigrant and newcomer to the U.S. has received less attention historically. In the end, Delany returned to the U.S. to fight for black freedom in the American Civil War, whereas Campbell made his permanent home in Africa. Why did Delany, one of the nation’s most vocal proponents of black nationalism, abandon emigration when Campbell followed through? A close textual analysis of the travel narratives each man wrote about the journey in Africa sheds light on this outcome by revealing that Delany’s thoughts never left the U.S. while Campbell embraced the opportunity to get to know the place he subtly described as his “motherland,” but made no grand claim to. Delany expressed a defensive nationalism that rejected the U.S. on the surface but was developed out of his hope of eventual acceptance in his actual homeland. He never stopped seeing himself first and foremost as American. Campbell, an international traveler in search of a home, expressed a subtle nationalism that remains muted throughout his narrative, and he approached the continent and its people with a sense of openness that led him to make Africa his home.

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