The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years

havingprophoto_08In 1993, Kodansha America, a New York Times publisher featured the oral history of two amazing women, the Delany sisters'. Daughters of a former slave who through grace and a helpful hand from a few unlikely people, Henry Beard Delany became the first African-American elected Bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Delany sisters who preferred to be called "colored" were civil rights pioneers with one hundred years of historical legacy and treasured memories. These relatively unknown sisters provided the world with a unique perspective from the eyes, soul, and spirit of their enthralling lives. Two African American sisters that lived for more than a century reflect on their achievements, careers, and insight along with their candid views of the world is a worthwhile story you won’t read in your history books; but, a story that the world needs to know and hear.   

The trailblazers, activists and best friends had a well-lived unique and privileged life that started in North Carolina and ended in Mt, Vernon, New York, where they bought a house with a garden on a quiet street. They survived encounters with racism and sexism but being the daughters of Henry Delany meant that they never allowed the hatred of others to deter them. Both sisters earned advanced degrees during a time when this was uncommon for any woman, not to mention women of color. 

Sarah Louise "Sweet Sadie" Delany the eldest of the two was born September 19, 1889. She was an American havingprophoto_03educator, and civil rights pioneer and the first African American permitted to teach Domestic Science at the high school level in the New York City public school system. She retired in 1960.

Annie Elizabeth "Bessie" Delany was born September 3, 1891. She was an American dentist and civil rights, pioneer. She was the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in the state of New York. She retired in 1956.

Amy Hill Hearth wrote the critically acclaimed memoir of this historically accurate, nonfiction account of the trials and tribulations of the 'good nature' Delany sisters.' However, The Delany sisters' lives were brought to life on stage by the unconquerable Director Chuck Smith who showcased the women with wit and wisdom. This family drama played out for two hours with over 100 years of oral history that will leave you enriched with knowledge of one family who happens to be colored in this country.

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years at The Goodman Theatre is an phenomenal work of art. It's an mesmerizing and captivating play about two strong, vibrant sisters who made their mark in life as women of color.

Sadie, who was 103 played by Marie Thomas and Bessie who was 101, performed by Ella Joyce, invited us into their world, where we saw firsthand the Delany sisters' unbreakable bond.

The First 100 Years is filled with wisdom, wit, humor, laughter, (partly due to the camaraderie between Thomas and Joyce) and lots of history. One of the memorable scenes was when Bessie played by Ella said, “The reason we've lived this long is because we never married. We never had husbands to worry us to death!’

Having Our Say was also filled with the disheartening truths of being colored during a time when unsettling topics such as legislation of Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the Southern States; which motivated the sisters’ to move to Harlem.

However, the wisdom that encompassed the audience on this beautiful journey with these sisters was priceless. We were so fortunate to go back in time with them who never married and never lived apart from one another. Their successes that they achieved and trials they faced during their century of life as they triumph over injustice in times of social disturbance was truly inspiring.

havingprophoto_01In a time where it was said that we are "Separate but Equal" which seems to still not exist today, we can find courage from these women in an old statement that said, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names (racism) will never hurt me.”

Let's Play highly recommend "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years!"


The cast includes

Ella Joyce (Bessie Delaney)

Marie Thomas (Sadie Delaney)

Goodman Theatre Presents

Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters' First 100 Years

By: Emily Mann

Adaptation from the book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth

Directed By: Chuck Smith

May 5 – June 10


Filed under: ChicagoNow

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