Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Angelina Weld Grimke, born February 27, 1880

Angelina Weld Grimké was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 27, 1880, 15  years after the end of the Civil War. Her father, Archibald Grimké was born a slave.  
He was the eldest of three sons of Nancy Weston, an enslaved woman of European and African descent, and her master Henry W. Grimké. They lived in a common-law relationship, and Grimké recognized his sons. Henry Grimké was a member of a prominent, large slaveholding family in Charleston. 

Henry had two sisters who had opposed slavery and left the South before he began his relationship with Nancy Weston.  Sarah and Angelina Grimké became notable abolitionists in the North before the Civil War.

Archibald Grimké was a lawyer, the second African American to have graduated from Harvard Law School.  Angelina's mother, Sarah Stanley, was European American from a Midwestern middle-class family. Grimké's parents met in Boston, where he had established a law practice. 

Archibald Grimke
Angelina was named for her father's aunt, Angelina Grimké Weld, who had died the year before Angelina's birth.  Her great-aunt would have celebrated her 75th birthday the day before Angelina was born.  Angelina Grimke Weld and her sister Sarah Grimké had brought Archibald and his brothers into her family after learning about them after their Henry died.
When Archibald Grimké and Sarah Stanley married, they faced strong opposition from her family, due to concerns over race. The marriage did not last; not long after Angelina's birth, Sarah left Archibald and returned with the infant to the Midwest. After Sarah began a career of her own, she sent Angelina, then seven, back to Massachusetts to live with her father. Angelina Grimké would have little contact with her mother after that. Sarah Stanley committed suicide several years later. 

Francis Grimke
Angelina's uncle, Francis J. Grimke, graduated from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, and Princeton Theological Seminary.  He became a Presyterian minister in Washington, D.C. He married Charlotte Forten, from a prominent black abolitionist family from Philadelphia.  

When her father served as consul to the Dominican Republic from 1894 to 1898, Angelina, who was 14 years old, lived with her Uncle Francis and Aunt Charlotte in Washington, D.C.

The Crisis Magazine - A Record of the Darker Races
Angelina wrote essays, short stories and poems which were published in The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her work was also collected in anthologies of the Harlem Renaissance. Her more well-known poems include "The Eyes of My Regret", "At April", "Trees" and "The Closing Door". The poet Georgia Douglas Johnson was one of her friends.
Georgia Douglas Johnson

Grimké wrote Rachel, one of the first plays to protest lynching and racial violence. She wrote the three-act drama for the NAACP, which had called for new works to rally public opinion against the recently released film, The Birth of a Nation in 1915. The film, directed by D.W. Griffith, glorified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed a racist view of blacks.

Produced in 1916 in Washington, D.C., Rachel was performed by an all-black cast. It portrayed the life of an African-American family in the North in the early 20th century: each role expressed different responses to the racial discrimination against blacks at the time. Rachel develops as she changes her perceptions of what the role of a mother might be, based on her sense of the importance of a naiveté towards the terrible truths of the world her. A lynching is the spectre of the play.

Modern literary critics have revealed that Angelina Grimke was lesbian. Some critics believe this is expressed in her published poetry in a subtle way, but it was revealed after her death by scholars' study of her diaries and more explicit unpublished works. Some of her unpublished poems are more explicitly lesbian, implying that she lived a life of suppression, "both personal and creative.”

After her father died in 1930, Grimké left Washington, DC, for  Brooklyn, New York. She died in 1958.

What though I die mid racking pain,

And heart seared through and through by grief, 

I still rejoice for I, at least, have lived.

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