Brenda Delany John: Having Her Say
Annie Elizabeth ("Bessie") and Sara ("Sadie") Louise Delany found fame at the ages of 102 and 104 as co-authors of their 1993 book, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years. The memoir, co-written by Amy Hill Hearth, stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years, and became a Broadway hit in 1995.Their extraordinary lives and century-long relationship has been added to the curriculum of schools and colleges across the country.
Sadie Delany, who is now 108, is a TC graduate. She earned her bachelor's degree in 1920 and her master's in teaching in 1925. Sadie was the first black women to teach "domestic science" on the high-school level in New York City. Bessie, who died in 1995 at the age of 104, graduated from Columbia University's School of Dentistry and Oral Surgery in 1923, and was only the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York.
The Delanys, in general, were members of a New York City family that was prominent within the black community in the 1920s and 1930s. While the Delany sisters were making their mark, there were six Delany brothers--especially the charismatic Hubert Delany--who were garnering public attention. A New York City judge, Hubert was a major figure in the civil rights movement of the 1920s. He also ran for Congress with the support of the first president of TC, Nicholas Murray Butler, and a little known Congressman at the time, Fiorella LaGuardia. Later in his career, Judge Delany worked to win a verdict of acquittal for civil rights leader Martin Luther King, before an all-white jury.
The family creed has focused on self-improvement through higher education. Brenda Delany John, the great niece of the Delany sisters, says "our family motto is 'your job is to help somebody.'" Delany John's father, Harry M. Delany, is Chairman of Surgery at Jacobi Hospital and her aunt, Dr. Madelon Delany Stent, is a professor of Education at City College (she too is a graduate of TC).
Brenda Delany John is a doctoral student in the Department of Arts and Humanities, and a Jaffe Scholar (Elliott Jaffe, a TC Trustee, provides scholarships for minority scholars who are preparing to teach in urban schools).
Following the Delany tradition, Brenda Delany John has taught art for 11 years and is currently working at Mark Twain Junior High School in Yonkers. She says, "What better way to help others than with a career as a teacher?"
As a divorced mother of two children and a full-time teacher, Delany John candidly remarks, "It often becomes difficult meeting financial obligations to further my studies and I am thankful for the generous support from the Jaffe Scholarship. It has been important in my work toward my doctorate and continues my family's long tradition in education."
Published Friday, Jun. 7, 2002