Henry Blake

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The pure-black hero of Martin R. Delany's epic novel, Blake, or The Huts of America (1859, 1861–1862), is late in assuming his titular name. Born Henrico Blacus in Cuba, he had gone to sea as a young man, had been compelled to work first in the Atlantic slave trade and later as a semifree man in Natchez, Mississippi, where—as Blake begins—he calls himself Harry or Henry Holland.

When his wife, a slave, is sold away to Cuba, he rapidly evolves into an anti- Uncle Tom character—and something more than the familiar fugitive slave. Renaming himself Gilbert Hopewell, he becomes an Odyssean observer and schemer, Mosaic-Christian Gospel reviser and advisor, and Romantic-Victorian revolutionary. He boldly races through North America from Texas to Canada to New York to Cuba, promotes black unity and self-reliance in conspirators awaiting his signal for a coordinated strike against white oppressors, notes sociopolitical conditions and attitudes within and between the races, and respectfully takes in folk songs and sayings.

He returns to his island home, rescues his wife from a wicked suitor, finally identifies himself as Henry Blake, signs on to a slaveship to Africa and back, recruits the cargo for his revolutionary army, and organizes supporters. In such travels to so many corners of the African American world, Black becomes the first Afrocentric, Pan-African, revolutionary ideologue and hero in world literature. The final outcome of his scheming, however, remains unknown because of the loss of the story's last six chapters.

Allan D. Austin

Subjects: Literature.

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