Sarah and Angelina Grimké - Sisters Against Slavery
At the turn of the 19th century, about 60 years before the start of the Civil War, the sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké were born into awealthy, slave-owning, plantation family in Charleston, South Carolina.
Girls born to theirsocial class wereexpected to live alife of ease, strollingin beautiful, well-tended gardens...
...attending balls, concerts, picnics, dinners, and parties,
From cradle to grave, the Grimké’s privileged life was madepossible thanks to the house slaves on hand twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to attend to their every whim.
Outside, field slaves toiled on the family’s cotton plantation that made all this possible.
But Sarah and Angelina were not destined to live out the lives of Southern belles. Even as small children, they were horrified byslavery. They rejected the privileged existence they were born to.They moved to the North and tirelessly devoted the rest of their lives to campaigning for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights.
From an early age, the sisters witnessed firsthand the brutal treatment routinely meted out to slaves.
During the cotton harvest, dailylashings were the norm. As afive-year-old, Sarah tried to runaway from home to find a placewith no slavery.
Later, in their writings and public speeches, the sisters vividly described the brutal treatment of slaves that they had witnessed, ranging from whippings, to torture, amputations, hangings, and decapitations.
Brutality and violence towards Africans at the handsof their white masters was routine – considerednormal and necessary by plantation owners.
Every day of their lives as antislavery activists, Sarah and Angelina faced harsh criticism,ostracism, rejection, and threats of violence, but they never wavered on their goal to eradicate slavery from America.
When Sarah was 26and Angelina was13, their fatherbecame gravely ill.He was advised toseek the care of aspecialist inPhiladelphia. Heasked daughterSarah to accompanyhim on his trip. Sarah Grimké in 1918
The journey toPennsylvania was to bea major turning point inSarah’s life. While herfather underwent medicaltreatment, Sarahbecame acquainted withthe Quakers, pacifistChristians who werepassionately opposed toslavery.
Sarah convertedto Quakerism andimmersed herselfin absorbingQuaker teachings. The Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery. Written in 1688, it is the oldest public document protesting slavery in America. It is also the first recorded declaration of universal human rights.
After a year inPhiladelphia, Sarah’sfather died. His death,combined with her timeamong the Quakers,hardened herdetermination to workto oppose slavery. Shedecided to stay inPhiladelphia and urgedher sister Angelina tojoin her.
However, Sarah and Angelina soon found that theQuakers werent radical enough for them. To the Quakers,working to oppose slavery meant holding prayer vigils.
The Grimké sisters wanted to take a more activist role. they, unlike their Quaker comrades, had witnessed years of cruelty toward slaves. They were not content to simply pray.
About this time - the mid-1830s- there was an explosion of anti- slavery sentiment in the North. Among groups campaigning to end slavery, were a number of all-women’s groups.
Sarah and Angelina were expelled from theQuakers for being too radical but they found ahome among the all-female antislavery groups.
They joined withabolitionist andfeminist leaders ofthe day to found thePhiladelphia FemaleAnti-Slavery Society.
While most oftheir colleagueswere opposed toslavery onreligious orphilosophicalgrounds...
Sarah andAngelina’s firsthandexperience with thehorrors of slaveryfired their passionand soon propelledthem to positions ofleadership in theanti-slaverymovement.
For Sarah, Angelina, and theother radical abolitionists oftheir day, the goal was acomplete social, political, andeconomic reorganization ofAmerican society.
They advocated for the immediateliberation of all humans held inbondage, the elimination of allracial divisions, an end to thegenocidal wars against AmericanIndians, and an end to women’sstatus as second-class citizens.
But even in the North, public opinion wasdeeply divided. A violent pro-slaverymovement sprang up to counter thearguments of the abolitionists.
Violence and strong social condemnation was aimedat women who had overstepped social norms to work actively and publically to oppose slavery.
Following a violentpro-slavery riot inBoston, Angelinawrote a passionateletter to William LloydGarrison, one ofAmerica’s leadingabolitionists and thepublisher of TheLiberator, an anti-slavery newspaper.
“The ground uponwhich you stand isholy ground;never, neversurrender it!If you surrender it,the hope of the slaveis extinguished......this is a causeworth dying for.”~ Angelina Grimké
Garrison was soimpressed and moved byAngelina’s letter that hepublished it as a tract, orpamphlet, the leading“social media” of the day.Millions of copies wereprinted and widelydistributed suddenlycatapulting Angeline to arole of nationalprominence.
In 1836, Angelina wroteAppeal to the ChristianWomen of the South.She wrote as oneSouthern lady toanother addressing herwords to Southernwomen in their ownlanguage. She took onevery argumentadvanced in favor ofslavery and refutedthem all.
“My friends, it is a fact that the South has incorporated slavery into her religion; that is the most fearful thing in this rebellion. They arefighting, verily believing thatthey are doing God service.”“I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters, anddaughters, of those who do.”
Sarah, not to be outdoneby her little sister, wroteher own book, An Epistleto the Clergy of theSouthern States.
In 1839, Sarah published hersecond book, Letters on theEquality of the Sexes and theCondition of Women.
Following the publication of their books, Sarah and Angelina received many speaking invitations. They went on a nation-wide tour to 37 cities and delivered nearly 70 lectures in parlours, churches, and town halls - including a series of six lectures at Boston’s huge Odeon theatre every one attended by sold-out crowds.Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society 1851 American Anti-Slavery Society 1840s
During 1837, thesisters spoke to over40,000 men andwomen across NewEngland.
In Charleston, SouthCarolina, the Grimké’shometown, their books andpamphlets were publiclyburned.
Any post office rumoured to have received a shipment of their pamphlets would be vandalize or burned to the ground.Their mother was threatened and harassed and was told her daughters would be arrested if they ever came to visit.
In early 1838, Angelina was invited to address theMassachusetts legislature in Boston’s State House and on February 21, she became the first woman in U.S. history to address a legislative committee.
She began her address:“I stand before you as a Southerner exiled from the landof my birth by the sound of the lash, and the piteous cry of the slave. I stand before you as a repentant slaveholder. I stand before you as a moral being.”One thousand people attended both legislative sessions.
On May 17th, 1838, Sarah and Angelina addressed a mixed-race, female antislavery rally inPhiladelphia, at Pennsylvania Hall, the brand new building of the American Abolition Society.
A mob of hundreds of anti-abolitionists gathered outsideand hurled rocks until all the windows were broken.Fearing for their lives, Sarah and Angelina had theattendees leave the building with their arms linked -black and white alternating.
The women got away safely, but the mob burned the buildingto the ground. The level of hostility was so high that the mayorof the city was afraid to call the fire department or the police.
Following this incident, in newspaper editorials andsermons, the consensus was that the women - and their provocative behavior - were to blame for the riot!
After five years of non-stop public speaking tours,Angelina and Sarah were exhausted. They decided to step out of the limelight, but they continued to work behind the scenes writing and publishing.
For nearly twenty years, they published theAmerican Antislavery Society’s annual almanac, The Slave’s Friend, and many other books, newspapers, and pamphlets.
In 1861, the Civil War broke out and in 1863, Lincolnissued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves.
In 1863 Sarah and Angelina opened a boarding school foryoung ladies including African-Americas and native Americans. Besides providing a classical education, Sarah and Angelina promoted equal rights for all women. The school was burned down.
Once the Civil War ended,the Grimkés turned theirenergies toward workingfor women’s rights. InMarch 1870, in Lexington,Massachusetts, theymarched with a group of42 women through asnow storm and a crowdof angry men to castballots in the generalelection.
Because of their ages,they weren’t arrested.Sarah was 77 andAngelina 65.Their ballots weren’tcounted but theycould claim to be thefirst women to vote inMassachusetts.This happenedexactly 50 yearsbefore womenwon the rightto vote.
Sarah Grimké passed away on December 17, 1873at the age of 84. Her younger sister, Angelina, died in 1879 at the age of 74. They are buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.
Mt. Hope Cemetery -- the final resting place ofmany prominent abolitionists, both black and white, leaders in the struggle for women’s rights, and many prominent writers, musicians, and artists of the pre- and post-civil war era -- is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Death was not the final chapter in the amazing lives of Sarah andAngelina Grimké. After the Civil War, they found out that their latebrother, Henry Grimké, had had two children with his slave, NancyWeston. Sarah and Angelina arranged for Nancy and her sons,Francis and Archibald, to come to Boston.
With the support of his aunts,Sarah and Angelina, Archibaldreceived a BA and MA fromLincoln University, inPennsylvania, in 1872. Hereceived his law degree fromHarvard University in 1874.He was a newspaper editor,author, life-long activist for civilrights, and career diplomat for theUS government.In 1913, he founded the NAACP,the National Association for theAdvancement of Colored People,and served as its leader until hisdeath in 1925.
Archibald and his wife, SarahStanley, had one daughter. Theynamed her Angelina after herfamous great-aunt, and Weld,after the famous abolitionist,Theodore Weld.Angelina, taking after her parentsand her great-aunts, became acivil rights activist, journalist, andwriter.She was a leader in the HarlemRenaissance and the first African-American woman to have a playproduced.
A year younger than brother,Archibald, Francis Grimké alsoreceived a BA and MA from LincolnUniversity, in Pennsylvania, in 1872.He went on to graduate fromPrinceton Theological Seminary in1875.He was a fiery orator and life-longactivist for civil rights. In 1878, hemarried Charlotte Forten, also arenowned civil rights activist.He founded and led the FifteenthStreet Presbyterian Church inWashington, DC, which is still goingstrong today.Francis died in 1937.
And today... two Grimkés who proudly trace their roots to the radical abolitionists Sarah and Angelina...
Sarah Grimké Aucoin Director of New York City Parks Urban Park Rangers. Sarah works to preserve endangered birds and trees.Ms. Aucoin has a BA from theUniversity of California and an MS from the University of Louisiana.
William Grimké Drayton Mr. Drayton lives in Englandwhere he is a teacher, poet, and campaigner for racial equality. He founded ComeToTheTable.org which works to unite andreconcile descendants of slaves and slave owners.