July 7, 2015

Learning from South Carolina: the Grimke Family by Ann Lewis

History was made again in South Carolina last month: the murders of nine worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the subsequent statements of forgiveness by the victims’ families were a stunning example of the deep roots of racism, and the power of human forgiveness.

It’s not the first time South Carolina brought the issue of race to the national forefront. The first state to secede from the Union, with charges of “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery,” South Carolina was also the home of two remarkable white sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who left their families and moved to Philadelphia, where they testified on the evils of slavery. They began by speaking to audiences of women; but their speeches, based on their own, firsthand experience, were so compelling that soon men too came to listen. Ministers complained about their “promiscuous “audiences, but the Grimke sisters went on speaking out –for the abolition of slavery, and soon for women’s rights as well.

After the Civil War, the sisters learned of 3 black brothers—Archibald, Francis, and John Grimke- who were sons of their brother Henry. The sisters reached out to their newly found nephews and welcomed them, helping with their education. Archibald and Francis Grimke became a lawyer and minister, respectively, prominent citizens and civil rights leaders in the difficult days of Reconstruction. Archibald was appointed Consul to the Dominican Republic in 1894. Archibald and Francis were founding members of the NAACP. Archibald’s daughter, also named Angelina Grimke, continued the family tradition of women’s voices, as a teacher in the DC schools who was also a playwright and author.

For work by the Grimke Sisters in our collection, see The Anti-Slavery Examiner. Vol. 1, no. 2. September, 1836

DOCU-1836-01-2 Appeal to Southern Women p1.jpg
DOCU-1836-01-3 Appeal to Southern Women p36.jpg

An appeal to the women of the nominally free states, issued by an anti-slavery convention of American women, held by adjournments from the 9th to the 12th of May, 1837.

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Letters on the equality of the sexes, and the condition of woman : addressed to Mary S. Parker, president of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society

For more about this remarkable American family, see: The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina by Gerda Lerner, Schocken Books, 1971 Lift Up Thy Voice by Mark Perry, Penguin Books. 2001