Image of Lucy Ann Delaney


Lifetime: 1830 - 1891 Passed: ≈ 133 years ago


Author , Activist


United States

Lucy Ann Delaney

Lucy Ann Delaney, born Lucy Berry was an African-American author, and activist, a former slave notable for her 1891 narrative From the Darkness Cometh the Light, or, Struggles for Freedom. This is the only first-person account of a "freedom suit" and one of the few slave narratives published in the post-Emancipation period.

The memoir recounts her mother Polly Berry's legal battles in St. Louis, Missouri, for her own and her daughter's freedom from slavery. For her daughter's case, Berry attracted the support of Edward Bates, a prominent Whig politician and judge, and the future US Attorney General under President Abraham Lincoln. He argued the case of Lucy Ann Berry in court and won in February 1844. Their cases were two of 301 freedom suits filed in St. Louis from 1814 to 1860. Discovered in the late twentieth century, the case files are held by the Missouri Historical Society and are searchable online.

For decades little was known of Lucy Ann Delaney beyond her memoir. In the 1990s her mother's and her freedom suits were among the brief case files found for 301 freedom suits in St. Louis, dating from 1814–1860. Related material is available online in a searchable database created by the St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Project, in collaboration with Washington University. In addition, scholars have conducted research into censuses and other historic material related to Delaney's memoir to document the facts.

Born into slavery in St. Louis, Missouri in 1830, Lucy Ann Berry was the second daughter of slaves Polly Berry (born Polly Crocket) and a mulatto father whose name she did not note. Their first daughter was named Nancy. Berry's family was held by Major Taylor Berry and his wife, Frances. Lucy's mother had been born free in Illinois but was kidnapped as a child by slave catchers and sold into slavery in Missouri.

In 1845, Lucy Ann met and married steamboat worker Frederick Turner, with whom she settled in Quincy, Illinois. Her mother lived with them. Turner died soon after in a boiler explosion on the steamboat The Edward Bates.

Polly Wash and Lucy Ann returned to St. Louis. In 1849, Lucy Ann met and married Zachariah Delaney. They were married for the rest of their lives, and her mother lived with them. Though the couple had four children, two did not survive infancy. The remaining son and daughter both died in their early twenties.

In the late nineteenth century, many blacks migrated to St. Louis from the Deep South for its industrial jobs. Delaney met with new arrivals to try to track down her father. Learning that he was living on a plantation 15 miles south of Vicksburg, Mississippi, she wrote and asked him to visit her. Her sister Nancy from Canada joined their reunion in St. Louis. Their father was glad to see them, but, as his wife Polly had died by then, he returned to Mississippi and his friends of 45 years.

She died in her Missouri home August 31, 1910. Funeral services were held for her in St. Louis, sponsored by the Heroines of Jericho.

Books by Lucy Ann Delaney

From the Darkness Cometh the Light, or Struggles for Freedom  Cover image

From the Darkness Cometh the Light, or Struggles for Freedom

Slavery Enlightenment Child's History Freedom Struggle Civil War Wisdom Darkness Child Labour

Short tale of one young girl, born under slavery, but freed by a court. She spent decades trying to uplift other former slaves, but her tale still underscores how many roadblocks America has put up to keep African Americans from enjoying the full fru...