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Students help keep civil rights pioneer's memory alive

October 26, 2003|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Despite being the first black to become a major in the Army, civil rights advocate Martin R. Delany is not well-known in Chambersburg, where he lived during his teen years from 1822 to 1831.

Thanks to the efforts of several local students, that will change.

Members of the Tiger Ambassadors at J. Frank Faust Junior High School who researched Delany dedicated a Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission marker on South Main Street on Saturday. The dedication was the Make-A-Difference Day project of the eighth- and ninth-graders.

A crowd assembled in front of the Mary Jones Carter Learning Center as the students presented their research into Delany's life.

He was active in the anti-slavery movement and the Underground Railroad. In 1843, he founded The Mystery in Pittsburgh, a nationally known black newspaper. He later was a reporter and editor for Frederick Douglass' The North Star newspaper.

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Educated at Harvard Medical School, Delany was a prominent physician. He was received by President Lincoln at the White House in 1865, which led to his Army commission.

Linda Shopes of Carlisle, Pa., representing the Historical and Museum Commission, said Delany was one of Pennsylvania's most distinguished residents.

She noted that Delany was 56 years old when blacks were granted citizenship. He continued to fight for the equality, self-determination and dignity of blacks. He traced his ancestry to African royalty.

"He has proved that one person can make a difference," Shopes said.

Ninth-grader Amanda Ridings, 14, said she had not known about Delany before starting the project. She thinks his most important contribution was his work with the Underground Railroad.

Amber Poe, 14, helped make posters for the event. She said Delany's work helping slaves escape made a difference by "helping everyone to know that slavery was wrong."

Candice Wagner of Chambersburg, a counselor at the junior high school, said the Tiger Ambassadors gave up their activity periods to work on the Delany project.

In existence for four years, the Tiger Ambassadors started out as helpers in the counseling department, then became peer mediators. They receive training in diversity and conflict resolution and train other students and staff.

"The Tiger Ambassadors show new students around," said Jill Jensen, 14, a ninth-grader. "We organized a book drive for Head Start. We learn tolerance and how to work together."

Ninth-grader Kori Powers was in charge of the posters for the Delany project.

"We researched together about Delany and what he did," she said. "The Tiger Ambassadors make a difference by telling people about this. No one had heard of him."

Wagner said the students came across a quote from Delany in their research - "Everyone has control of their destiny."

"He chose to be who he was, and how he acted," said Kayla McClure, 14.

Jenny Waters, vice-president of the Chambersburg Community Improvement Association, said the marker was placed in front of the Mary Jones Carter Learning Center because Delany had gone to school in that area, known as Kerrstown.

She said they wanted it in front of a school, because education was important to Delany and his family.

The Learning Center provides after-school tutoring and hot meals.

"A lot of good is done through here," Waters said. "That's the idea, to save our youth."

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