Archibald Grimké

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Archibald Grimké
Archibald Grimké.jpg
Born(1849-08-17)August 17, 1849
DiedFebruary 25, 1930(1930-02-25) (aged 80)
Occupationattorney, diplomat, journalist
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Sarah Stanley
ChildrenAngelina Weld Grimke
Relativessiblings: Francis, John

Archibald Henry Grimké (August 17, 1849 – February 25, 1930) was an American lawyer, intellectual, journalist, diplomat and community leader in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A graduate of freedmen's schools, Lincoln University and Harvard Law School, he later was appointed as American Consul to the Dominican Republic from 1894 to 1898. He was an activist for rights for blacks, working in Boston and Washington, DC. He was a national vice-president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as president of its Washington, DC branch.

Early life and education[edit]

Grimké was born into slavery near Charleston, South Carolina in 1849. He was the eldest of three sons of Nancy Weston, an enslaved woman of European and African descent, and her master Henry W. Grimké, a widower. They lived in a common-law relationship, and Grimke recognized his sons. Archibald's brothers were Francis and John. Grimké was a member of a prominent, large slaveholding family in Charleston. His father and relatives were planters and active in political and social circles.

After becoming a widower, Grimké moved with Weston to his plantation outside Charleston; they lived together without social oversight. He was a father to his sons, teaching them and Nancy to read and write. In this period, as South Carolina discouraged manumissions by requiring slaveholders to petition the legislature for each case, it was nearly impossible and a public process to gain manumissions. Grimke never freed Weston or their children, and was simply discreet about them.

In 1852 as he was dying, Grimké tried to protect his second family by willing Nancy, who was pregnant with their third child, and their two sons Archibald and Francis to his son and heir Montague Grimké, by his first wife. He directed that they "be treated as members of the family."[1]

Henry's sister Eliza, executor of his will, brought the family to Charleston and allowed them to live as if they were free, but she did not aid them financially. Nancy Weston took in laundry and did other work; when the boys were old enough, they attended a public school with free blacks. In 1860 Montague "claimed them as slaves," bringing the boys into his home as servants.[1] Later he hired out both Archibald and Francis. After Francis rebelled, Montague Grimké sold him. Archibald ran away and hid for two years with relatives until after the end of the Civil War.[2] Montague never provided well for his half-brothers or for their mother.

After the American Civil War ended, the three Grimké boys attended freedmen's schools, where their talents were recognized by the teachers. They gained support to send Archibald and Francis to the North. They studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, established for the education of blacks.[1]

Grimké sisters[edit]

By the time Henry began his relationship with Weston, his two youngest sisters, Sarah and Angelina, had been gone from Charleston for years. Opposed to slavery, Sarah and Angelina had left the South because of their views and became noted abolitionists and feminists. Collectively known as the Grimké sisters, they were active as writers and speakers in northern abolitionist circles, having joined the Quakers and the American Anti-Slavery Society. After Angelina married Theodore Weld in Philadelphia, the three lived and worked for years in New Jersey. They operated a school together. In 1864, they moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, a new community outside Boston.

In February 1868 Angelina Grimke Weld read an article noting the talents of an ex-slave, Archibald Grimké, as a student at Lincoln. Noticing his surname, she followed up and learned that he was her brother's son, and about the rest of his family. She and Sarah acknowledged the boys and Nancy Weston as family, and tried to provide them with better opportunities. They paid for their nephews' education: Archibald and Francis attended Harvard University and Howard University, respectively, for law. Francis shifted to Princeton Theological Seminary and became a minister. The Grimkés introduced the young men to their abolitionist circles.[1] The youngest son John dropped out of school and returned to the South, losing touch with his brothers and the Grimkes.[2] Their professors had found them extraordinary students, and both Archibald and Francis graduated from Lincoln in 1870.[1]


Francis J. Grimké did graduate work at Princeton Theological Seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian minister. He married Charlotte Forten, of the prominent Philadelphia black abolitionist family. She was also an abolitionist and a teacher, and became known for her diaries written mostly from 1854-1864. He headed the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, for more than 40 years. Francis died in 1939.

The youngest brother, John Grimké, did not stay in school. He went to Florida and cut himself off from the Grimké families. He died in 1918.

Marriage and family[edit]

After getting established with his law practice in Boston, Massachusetts, Archibald Grimké met and married Sarah Stanley, a white woman from the Midwest. They had a daughter, Angelina Weld Grimké, born in 1880. They separated while their daughter was young, and Stanley returned with Angelina to the Midwest when the girl was three. When Angelina was seven, Stanley started working. She brought Angelina back to her father in Boston. The couple never reconciled, and Stanley never saw her daughter again; she committed suicide by poison in 1898.[3]

In 1894, Grimké was appointed as consul to the Dominican Republic. While he was in Central America, his daughter Angelina lived for years with his brother Francis and his wife Charlotte in Washington, DC, where Francis was minister of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church.

After graduating from school, Angelina became a teacher and writer. Her essays and poetry were published by The Crisis of the NAACP. In 1916, she wrote the play, Rachel, which addressed lynching, in response to a call by the NAACP for works to protest the controversial film, Birth of a Nation. It is one of the first plays by an African American considered to be part of the Harlem Renaissance. In addition, she wrote poetry, some of which is now considered the first lesbian work by an African American.


Grimké lived and worked in the Boston area most of his career. Beginning in the 1880s, he began to get active in politics and speaking out about the rise of white supremacy following the end of Reconstruction in the South. He was appointed as editor of the Hub, a Republican newspaper that tried to attract black readers. Grimke supported equal rights for blacks, both in the paper and in public lectures, which were popular in the nineteenth century. He became increasingly active in politics, and was chosen for the Republican Party's state convention in 1884. That year he was also appointed to the board of a state hospital for the insane. Grimké became involved in the women's rights movement, which his aunts had supported, and addressed it in the Hub. He was elected as president of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. Believing that the Republicans were not doing enough, he left the party in 1886.[2] In 1889, he joined the staff of the Boston Herald as a special writer.[4]

In the South, the situation for blacks was deteriorating, and Grimké continued the struggle against racism, allying at times with other major leaders of the day. He had also become involved in Frederick Douglass' National Council of Colored People, a predecessor to the NAACP, which grappled with issues of education for blacks, especially in the South. Grimké disagreed with Booker T. Washington about emphasizing industrial and agricultural education for freedmen (the South still had a primarily agricultural economy). He believed there needed to be opportunities for academic and higher education such as he had.

In 1901 with several other men, he started The Guardian, a newspaper in which they could express their views.[2] They selected William Monroe Trotter as editor. Together Grimké and Trotter also organized the Boston Literary and Historical Association, which at the time was a gathering of men opposed to Washington's views.[2] For a time he was allied with W.E.B. Du Bois, but Grimké continued to make his own way between the two groups.

Despite earlier conflict with Washington and his followers, in 1905, Grimké started writing for The Age, published in New York and the leading black paper; it was allied with Washington. He wrote about national issues from his own point of view, for instance, urging more activism and criticizing President Theodore Roosevelt for failing to adequately support black troops in Brownsville, Texas, where they were accused of starting a riot.

Continuing his interest in intellectual work, he served as president of the American Negro Academy from 1903 to 1919, which supported African-American scholars and promoted higher education for blacks.[2] He published several papers with them, dealing with issues of the day, such as his analysis in "Modern Industrialism and the Negroes of the United States" (1908).[5] He believed that capitalism as practiced in the United States could help freedmen who left agriculture to achieve independence and true freedom.

In 1907 he became involved with the Niagara Movement started by Du Bois, and later with the NAACP which the latter also founded. Men continued to struggle to find the best way to deal with racism and advance equal rights, at a time when lynching of black men in the South continued.

After his daughter graduated from college, Grimké became increasingly active as a leader in the NAACP, which was founded in 1909. First he was active in Boston, for instance, writing letters in protest of proposed legislation in Washington, DC. to prohibit interracial marriages. (The legislation was not passed.) In 1913, he was recruited by national leaders to become the president of the Washington, DC branch and moved to the capital with his daughter Angelina.[2] His brother Francis and his wife Charlotte still lived there.

Grimke led the public protest in Washington, DC against the segregation of federal offices under President Woodrow Wilson, who acceded to wishes of other Southerners on his cabinet. Grimké testified before Congress against it in 1914 but did not succeed in gaining changes.[2] About this time, he also became a national vice-president of the NAACP. The organization supported the US in World War I, but Grimké highlighted the racial discrimination against blacks in the military and worked to change it.[2]

He fell ill in 1928. At the time, he and Angelina were living with his brother Francis, by then a widower. His daughter and brother cared for him until his death in 1930.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1919, the NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal for his life work for racial equality.[2]
  • In 1934, the Phelps Colored Vocational School was renamed Grimke Elementary School in his honor. The school was closed in 1989 and the building served as headquarters for the Washington D.C. Fire and Corrections Departments until 2012, when the main building was left vacant. The gymnasium has housed the African-American Civil War Museum since 2010.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e Diedrich, Maria I. "Review: Lift Up Thy Voice:: The Grimké Family's Journey From Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders by Mark Perry", The New York Times (December 2, 2001) Accessed: May 5, 2012
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Botsch, Carol Sears (1997-02-18). "Archibald Grimke". University of South Carolina-Aiken. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
  3. ^ Perry, p.266
  4. ^ Items on the Wing, The Cinicinatti Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) November 23, 1889, page 16, accessed November 11, 2016 at
  5. ^ Grimké, Archibald Henry. "Modern Industrialism and the Negroes of the United States", Washington, DC: American Negro Academy, 1908. Gutenberg Project. Accessed: May 8, 2012


  • Perry, Mark (2001). Lift up Thy Voice: The Grimke Family's Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders (1st ed.). New York: Viking. ISBN 0-14-200103-1.

Further reading

  • Bruce, Dickson D., Jr. Archibald Grimke: Portrait of a Black Independent, Baton Rouge, La: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
  • Starr, William W. "Bio of black activist restores his prestige," The State (Aug. 22, 1993), 4F.
  • Thomas, Rhondda R. & Ashton, Susanna, eds. (2014). The South Carolina Roots of African American Thought. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. "Archibald Grimke (1849-1930)," p. 86-92.

External links[edit]