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Saturday, July 22, 2017

I Can't Go Home...

Beauford on the deck of the SS Liberté*

I can't go home because I never really left ... I sailed to France sixteen years ago, but I've never left America. The body goes somewhere, that's all ...

The above quote was Beauford's response to a reporter who asked him in 1969 if, as a Negro, he felt he should go home to America where the action is.

In fact, part of Beauford's heart, mind, and soul always remained in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. From the moment he left Knoxville to move to Boston in 1923 until his commitment to Sainte-Anne's Hospital in Paris in 1975, Beauford consistently, if not frequently, reached back to Knoxville for emotional and spiritual sustenance.

Delaney Family Home at 815 East Vine Street, Knoxville*
Image from KnoxNews.com Archive

Beauford and his brother Joseph returned to Knoxville in 1933. Both were living in New York City at the time. They were much admired and their accomplishments were touted by those in their community.

In 1938, he wrote "disjointed letters" to his mother Delia during a time of financial crisis and she reacted by writing to Joseph to tell him to take care of Beauford.

In 1941, he visited Knoxville briefly at around Christmas time and in 1950, he took the train from New York to Knoxville to see his mother.

Portrait of Delia Delaney
(1964) Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of Case Antiques
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

His last visit as a resident of the U.S. was in August 1953, shortly before he shut down his New York studio and moved to Paris. Biographer David Leeming says that during this visit, Beauford "asked many questions about family history and went through family papers, as if this would be a last chance to do so."

Beauford's last visit to Knoxville took place in December 1969. By this time, he was so mentally fragile that he relied on others to make his travel arrangements. He somehow made it to Knoxville despite many mishaps along the way and was taken to the Delaney home by a taxi driver who knew his family. He celebrated his birthday there, went to church with his family, and painted. He left for Paris on January 14, 1970 and would never see the United States again.

Beauford's relatives visited him in Paris as well. Joseph came most frequently, but his brother Emery, his sister-in-law Gertrude, and his niece Imogene came in 1964. Joseph and Beauford's niece, Ogust Mae, attended Beauford's funeral.

*The creator of this photo is unknown to Les Amis de Beauford Delaney. We consider its publication in this blog post to be "fair use" according to U.S. copyright law (used for a non-profit educational purpose; no significant effect on the potential market for the work).

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