Wednesday January 23 5:51 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

Love and Longevity - “Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years”


I used to visit my husband’s grandmother, who passed away at the age of 94, and ask her about things she’d seen and done. She once told me a story about watching the horse-drawn funeral processions from Chicago driving through Oak Park on the way to the cemetery. It’s almost impossible to catalogue all of the live-changing inventions she witnessed during her lifetime – electricity, the telephone, the automobile, refrigeration, air conditioning, movies, radio, television, paved roads, highways, credit cards, frozen foods and many more. In addition to all these technological advances, the Delaney sisters had to deal with racism in America.

Journalist Amy Hill Hearth interviewed the sisters, who were both over 100 years old, in 1991 for a New York Times article. She went on to write a book with the sisters which they called “Having Our Say”. A few years later, Emily Mann adapted the book into this play which premiered on Broadway in 1995 while the sisters were still living.

You’re invited to step into the Delaney parlor and meet two delightful maiden ladies, Sarah “Sadie” (Marie Thomas) and Elizabeth “Bessie” (Ella Joyce). For two hours, the sisters talk about their lives, their family, their careers, their friends and their opinions. They were successful career women with advanced degrees in a time when women, particularly black women, didn’t even have the vote.

The Delaney sisters knew everyone who was anyone. They were friends with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, taking sides in their legendary battle of words. Sadie sided with Washington who believed that blacks should assuming a humble and modest ‘mask’. Bessie, who was a born activist, joined Dubois in protesting.

As a Hoosier, I had to chuckle as one of them expressed disdain for Dan Quayle.

When the sisters walk into their kitchen to prepare dinner, the entire set rotates as they walk. I loved watching them working together, cutting up sweet potatoes and carrots. They fixed a ham just like my grandmother did, decorating the outside with slices of pineapple with bright red cherries in the center.

Biographical facts:
• The Delaney sisters have 8 siblings
• Their father, Henry Delaney, who was born a slave, became America’s first African American Episcopal bishop and Vice President of St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C.
• The Delaney children grew up on the college campus
• Their mother, Nanny, was a teacher and administrator at the college
• Their grandmother, a free African American had a lifelong relationship with a white man (they were never allowed to marry)
• After the Jim Crow laws were passed, the sisters moved to New York City to get an education
• Sadie was a teacher in New York City until she retired in 1960 – the first African American allowed to teach high school in the city – an accomplishment she proudly achieved through a bit of deception
• Bessie was a dentist in Harlem until she retired in 1950. She was proud to say she’d never raised her prices

“Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years” runs through June 10th at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago. Most reasonable parking options for the Goodman is the Government Center garage on Lake between LaSalle and Dearborn: online advance payment at, $17.00.

Running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Remaining performances are: Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday at 2:00 and 7:30 pm; Friday at 8:00 pm; Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 pm; and Sunday at 2:00 pm. Tickets range from $20-$75. FYI (312) 443-3800 or