To the Brave, Bold Forerunners: The Grimke Sisters
Happy TribeLife Tuesday!
Today, I would like to introduce you to the Grimke sisters, Sarah (1792 - 1873) & Angelina (1805 - 1879). They are leading the way into our new series of open letters to forerunners who have fought battles that we now get to reap the reward of. These sisters were valiant in their pursuit of justice and a thunderous voice for abolition and women’s rights.
Sarah and Angelina were to born to a very wealthy, distinguished family who resided in Charleston, South Carolina. The Grimke family was part of the Charleston Aristocracy (which, at the time, was one of the wealthiest societies on earth). Born into unimaginable luxury, they were surrounded by slaves who were to do anything and everything for them upon their request. Sarah, 12 years the elder of Angelina, became her godmother, promising “to guide and direct [this] precious child.” So it is no wonder we will see these sisters fight the throngs of injustice side by side.
Both Sarah and Angelina had great disdain for slavery, even though they were raised in the cradle of slavery on a plantation in South Carolina. It is said that Angelina's initial objection of slavery was less for the slaves themselves and more for their masters—believing it was a sin and that God would punish people who had slaves. But as time would progress, her consciousness of the pain of slavery would increase for the slave over the master. She found it to be almost unbearable and regarded her childhood home as "an empire of sin.”
At the age of 27, Sarah would accompany her dying father to Philadelphia for medical treatment, where he would later pass. Upon Sarah’s return to Charleston, her ill-sentiment of slavery returned with new vigor. She writes, “After being for many months in Pennsylvania when I went back it seemed as if the sight of [the slaves’] condition was insupportable…can compare my feeling only with a canker incessantly gnawing…. I was as one in bonds looking on their sufferings I could not soothe or lessen….” Sarah retuned to Philadelphia, converted to Quakerism and joined the abolitionist fight. Several years later, Angelina joined her in her conversion and in the fight for freedom from familiarity. This move made the sisters outcasts to the South and not entirely well accepted in their current residence (the North).
This lack of belonging seemed to not be a bother to these sisters. Although, Angelina was reluctant to join the abolitionist movement, at first fearing it would reflect badly on her mother, she waited until she no longer could. Staying abreast and reading reports the violence against slaves was growing and she decided she could no longer stay silent. So both Grimke sisters headed to New York with scores of fellow abolitionists for a training session. They were trained and sent out to teach this anti-slavery doctrine. While in her pursuit of educating people, it was fine that women attended her meeting, but when the men started to come to hear Angelina, the leaders of this movement instructed her that she must stop—for it was "not right that a woman educate a man." It was here that Angelina now had another cause to seek justice for.
She and her sister, Sarah, became prominent activists for women’s rights and abolition. Angelina boldly pronounced that “she had a right to speak out” and that she did! These sisters were agitators of social justice. They used their voice to speak on behalf of the voiceless. They used their privilege to benefit others. "Their conscience would not allow them to live off of the luxury and the work of others.”
So it is, here, that you, I, and we must breathe deeply and take inventory. Each of us, in one way or another, is living in the harvest of the years the Grimke sisters spent toiling the ground. Whether directly or indirectly, can you identify where their work is benefitting you? In contrast to last week's blog, we can see the power of selflessness and the ripple effect it has on generations.
Angelina Grimke would go on to marry Theodore Weld and they would carry out their most influential work in the days ahead. Publishing a book, American Slavery As It Is, was made up of first-hand accounts of the cruelty, inhumane torture of slavery. And amazingly, both Sarah and Angelina would live to see the abolishment of slavery.
So I say to the Grimke sisters: Thank you for valor, for your unrelenting fervor for freedom, for you compassion and action, for standing up for the disenfranchised, cast down, impoverished, and ill-treated. Thank you for caring for the least of these and for your words that matched your actions.
I look forward to sharing more of these amazing men and women with you!