This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
Angelina Weld Grimké was born into a legacy of advocacy for racial justice.
As the daughter of Archibald Grimké, the second Black to graduate from Harvard law and vice president of the NAACP, Grimké’s heritage of racial equality can be further traced to her grandaunts, Angelina and Sarah Grimké, prominent abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights.
“Upon graduating the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in Massachusetts (now Wellesley College) in 1902, Angelina Weld Grimké embarked on a career teaching English in Washington, D.C., that would last until 1926,” BlackPast.org researchers noted.
During her teaching career, she begins to write, and her poetry, short stories and essays were published in The Crisis, Alain Locke’s “The New Negro,” Countee Cullen’s “Caroling Dusk” and Robert Kerlin’s “Negro Poets and Their Poems.”
Grimké is also known for her play “Rachel,” a three-act drama that was performed by an all-Black cast in March 1916. Published in 1920, the play was produced as a vehicle for the NAACP to rally support against the film “The Birth of Nation.”
“I often think of how many white people today are aloof to their Black heritage,” said Phyllis G. Williams, a special-education teacher, school psychologist and co-host of “Living the Principles” podcast. “There were many white-passing Blacks during the Jim Crow and civil rights era who did what was easier for them by impersonating a white person.
“Angelina Weld Grimké makes me think of chosen hardship for a greater cause,” Williams said. “She is quoted saying, ‘I want to be identified with the Nego; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours.’ She could have ignored Black issues, yet she created the stage for the Harlem Renaissance, with her all-Black cast of Rachel in 1916. When I think of Angelina Grimké, I think of Black power wrapped in fair skin.”
Born in 1880 in Boston, Grimké died in 1958 in New York.
“By the mid-20thcentury, ‘the personal is political’ had become a familiar rallying cry for the civil rights and women’s movements,” said Lee M. Pierce, an assistant professor of Rhetorical Communication in New York and a writer who has penned pieces on race and politics for top academic journals and ABC News. “But in 1838, when Grimké began her speech at the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women at Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia, politics were a white man’s affair and no one else’s.
“Grimké, in the last public speech she ever gave and the first of its kind to a mixed audience, was determined to change that reality,” Pierce said. “Although all historical activists become famous because of their rhetorical excellence, Angelina Grimké stood out as a uniquely eloquent speaker when women were not meant to speak, let alone abolition.
“Grimké’s Pennsylvania Hall Address is notorious among speech scholars for its steadfast resolve in the face of the violent mob waiting outside the hall,” Pierce said. “Grimké’s willingness to enact the very suffering she associated with slavery would echo throughout the 19th century across women abolitionists, most notably in Sojourner Truth’s ‘Ain’t I A Woman.’”