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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lemuel Delany, July 15, 2005. Interview R-0346. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Disapproval of the NAACP for lack of support of African American business

Delany exresses his general disillusionment with the NAACP. Although both of his parents and both of his siblings were actively involved in the NAACP, Delany explains that he never became a member. Overall, Delany argues that he was disillusioned with the NAACP because he didn't think that they did enough in terms of supporting African American businesses. Delany, who worked as a funeral director in New York City, cites specifically how prominent African Americans like Roy Wilkins and Luther Vandross were taken to white funeral homes when they passed away.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lemuel Delany, July 15, 2005. Interview R-0346. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIMBERLY HILL:
Were any of you involved in the NAACP?
LEMUEL DELANY:
I have a sad tale to tell.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Okay.
LEMUEL DELANY:
My brother was a life member. My sister was a life member. My mama was a life member. I assume my daddy was. I was not. I was a funeral director in New York City when Roy Wilkins died. Roy Wilkins at the time was probably the best known black civil rights leader in the United States. They carried him to the white folks to be buried. They carried him to the white folks to be buried as many funeral directors as there were in New York. I carried a picket line to the funeral. I carried a picket line to the funeral. I got into discussions with the NAACP, and because of their power and that sort of thing, they outweighed me right quick. For example, one of the things they told me is that it was Mrs. Wilkins's job [to] request that he go to Walter B. Cooke's funeral home. I knew that to be a lie; I don't know it to be a lie, but she was old. She didn't know a damned thing about a funeral home in New York City. So the powers to be went to her and said, "Ms. Wilkins, we'll take care of everything," which they did like this jackass—and I'm not talking about the boy because he's dead. What's the boy's name that died the other day? The singer, Luther Vandross. As many black funeral homes as there are in New York.
KIMBERLY HILL:
He went to a white one.
LEMUEL DELANY:
Hell, yes. That thing B.I.G Biggs that got killed.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Notorious B.I.G.
LEMUEL DELANY:
They all got to go to the white man. All the big niggers got to go to the white folks to be buried. As a result—
ESTHER DELANY:
Stop using that word.
LEMUEL DELANY:
Well, that's the truth. As a result I have and when I was in the funeral business, I did bury some people that were indirectly close to the NAACP. I never got any flowers for their funerals from a black florist. The NAACP always sent flowers from the white florists to their little ones funerals. So I have never been a NAACP lover. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
ESTHER DELANY:
You're bad to the bone.
LEMUEL DELANY:
You see that's—Martin Luther King said there was certain advantages to longevity. He didn't say too damned much about disadvantages of longevity. Babies, these children and old folks can say any damned thing they want to, and people either put it on their youth or their age. So I don't, I'm enjoying it. I just say anything I want. I don't care. You're either too young to understand or he's too damned old, don't pay him any mind. So that's the way that goes.
KIMBERLY HILL:
My mom likes to take that privilege now that she's over fifty.
LEMUEL DELANY:
She's a baby. Your mama's a little baby. Your mama's a little baby.
ESTHER DELANY:
Still smokes cigarettes.
LEMUEL DELANY:
And I still smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey and chase young girls. I don't chase any old women now because they're slow and I might accidentally catch one of them, and what am I going to do after I catch them. The young ones are fast. I can't, don't have any chance to catch them. I chase them all over the place. Don't got any chance to catch them. That's it. I play cards. I go to Atlantic City, and I play poker. I play slot machines and I play whatever they've got in the Atlantic City. I win my money and lose their money. Lose my money and win their money.
KIMBERLY HILL:
You stay busy.
LEMUEL DELANY:
I've got a garden out the back. I've got some tomatoes and eggplants, string beans and okra and cucumbers and peppers and stuff in my garden.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Did you learn that from your dad?
LEMUEL DELANY:
Yeah, partly. Partly. And just something I decided to do besides look at this thing all day [meaning TV]. I'm getting a little too old for that now. I can't get down. You've got to get down to the dirt to till the soil. You can't stand up straight and do this.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Who helps you with the gardening now?
LEMUEL DELANY:
My wife. In fact I help her now.
ESTHER DELANY:
Go on.
LEMUEL DELANY:
I help her.
KIMBERLY HILL:
So you were upset with the NAACP because they weren't catering to black businesses especially the funeral business.
LEMUEL DELANY:
That just happens to be one example, but the florist business as I say, they had their office downtown Manhattan. They never called a black florist and say, look so and so is dead. We want to send a bouquet of flowers to so and so. They didn't call the black florist. They called a white florist. All that kind of [foolishness], and yet you're calling yourself a leader in civil rights and black growth. I don't like that. That's two-faced to me. I don't like that.
KIMBERLY HILL:
I never knew that.
LEMUEL DELANY:
That's exactly what they did. And, as I say, Roy Wilkins he was a nice fellow. I know him personally, and I talked to him several times, not about civil rights, just personal friends. But and so I'm not condemning him because he did not select the funeral home he went to. Their excuses were stupid. "Well, we find it convenient to have the funeral in midtown Manhattan." Now you're going to have the man come all the way from California to New York to a funeral and can't go another hundred blocks to a Harlem funeral. That was one of their excuses. The vice president came from Washington all the way to New York to the funeral, but he can't come another hundred blocks to Harlem to a church to a funeral. That's the kind of stupid stuff that they gave me. I told them it was stupid.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Did any other people complain too?
LEMUEL DELANY:
I had my picket line there, and Jesse Jackson is the only one that broke ranks and came over there and congratulated us and said he was on our side, gave me his name, address and everything in Chicago and said get in touch with him. We wrote him a dozen letters and never heard another word from him. Never heard, that was when he was running for president. He told him you'd better leave those niggers alone.
ESTHER DELANY:
Hush.
LEMUEL DELANY:
Well, that's what they said. Y'all keep talking about—I call a spade a spade. I'm not calling it a shovel. It's a spade. Yeah. But—
KIMBERLY HILL:
At least he made the effort to come say something.
LEMUEL DELANY:
Yeah, at the funeral when they were coming out of the funeral. See, now here's the—the white funeral home and the chauffeurs were the pallbearers for the funeral.
ESTHER DELANY:
White chauffeurs.
LEMUEL DELANY:
The number one, and the white chauffeurs were limousine drivers. That's their number one black civil rights leader.
KIMBERLY HILL:
It was completely catered by white businesses.
LEMUEL DELANY:
The same thing happened the other day with Luther Vandross. As many white, and believe me all the funeral directors in New York, white and black, go to the same school. They all have to pass the same exams. There are at least a half a dozen funeral homes, black funeral homes in New York that are top rate, first class funeral homes. See, so the white folks aren't the only ones that have top-flight funeral homes. If that's what you're talking about. Now you've got a lot of store front kind of funeral homes, but the top flight ones, they've got a half a dozen top flight funeral homes that could've handled big Luther Vandross and his mother too. That's, those were the things that ticked me off about your people.