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Posts Tagged ‘Angelina Grimke Weld’

O that I might live religion – how striking the exhortation of the Apostle – present your bodies a living sacrifice, Lord enable me so to live that every day I may sacrifice my own will to thine.            Angelina Grimke, December 25, 1828

Angelina and SarahThe Grimke sisters, Angeline and Sarah, have been pretty much forgotten in our day but in the nineteenth century they were well known in abolitionist circles. They made history in speeches against slavery as well as in publishing tracts calling for an end to the evil institution. They recognized that slavery and discrimination were two separate issues and fought against both.

While there were many famous male abolitionists, the sisters drew large audiences due to their compassionate speeches. Angelina and Sarah were unique because they had been raised in South Carolina on a slave holding plantation and their outspokenness against slavery was based on their first hand experiences witnessing the cruelty of slavery. Audiences came to jeer the women speakers but stayed to listen in rapt silence as the sisters recounted the horrors of slavery and called for an end to it.

Angelina Grimke was born in 1805. She was the youngest of fourteen children born to John Grimke and Mary Smith Grimke. Her older sister Sarah was thirteen when Angelina was born. Sarah doted on her baby sister Angelina and the two remained close until the end of their lives.

Angelina’s family was the type of wealthy southern family that is pictured in movies and books. Slaves were seen as “not quite human” with no rights. They were badly mistreated. One of Angelina’s brothers beat a slave boy so harshly that he could hardly walk. Angelina, even as a young girl, had a deep faith in God and the Bible. She could not reconcile the cruelty to other human beings, made in the image of God just as she was, with her religion. She tried to remonstrate with her mean brother; he told her to mind her own business.

In her personal life Angelina tried to live more as she thought a Christian should live. SheangelinaGrimkeWeld began to dress plainly and stopped going to frivolous parties. Her family who were of the privileged class barely tolerated her. Angelina prayed for them and even tried to convince them of the error of their ways. They were quite happy in their position in life and did not appreciate Angelina’s attempts to enlighten them. She desperately wanted to leave home but stayed to help her mother after the death of her father.

Angelina’s religious life went through several changes. She was uncomfortable in the cold established church that her mother went to. They did not preach against slavery. One day she heard a Presbyterian preacher speak what seemed to her the very words of God. She joined that church and since she was a young woman who never did anything by halves she began to teach Sunday School and to work in the church immediately.

When she thought that the time was right Angelina moved to Philadelphia because she could no longer support the institution of slavery. She waited until she felt like she had her mother’s blessing. Though they still disagreed on the issue of slavery Angelina and her mother would remain on loving terms.

Sarah had moved to Philadelphia some years before Angelina. When Angelina was exposed to the Friends’ Church (Quakers) through Sarah, she thought she had found a people of God who lived more closely to the Bible. As usual Angelina threw herself into meetings and church work and became well known for her spirituality. She became attached to the son of Friends’ ministers, but he died of an illness before they could get married. Angelina was heartbroken but believed that God had some purpose for her.

When William Lloyd Garrison began to publish appeals for the ending of slavery Angelina felt compelled to write him a personal letter to encourage him. “The ground upon which you stand is holy ground,” she told him, “never-never surrender it . . . if you surrender it, the hope of the slave is extinguished.” We must continue to agitate for the end of slavery even if abolitionists are persecuted and attacked because, as she put it, “This is a cause worth dying for.”

Garrison published her passionate letter in his paper “Liberator”. This was the start of Angelina’s career as an abolitionist speaker. It was also the beginning of the end of her relationship with the orthodox Quakers. The church leader came to her and asked her to renounce what she had written. Angelina was surprised at his attitude and respected him as her elder and she did some soul searching.
That night I hardly slept at all & the next day I was sunk as low as I ever had been involved in great darkness & desiring to feel utterly condemned if I had done wrong.  She threw herself as a helpless sinner at the foot of the Cross & plead for sight & for strength to undo, or bear just what was required. Angelina had come to the place where she realized what God had called her to do. She had promised God if He would only prepare me to be & make me instrumental in the great work of Emancipation I would be willing to bear any suffering. … tho’ condemned by human judges I was acquitted by him whom I believe qualified me to will it, and I felt willing to bear all, if it was only made instrumental of good. I felt great unworthiness of being used in such a work but remembered that God hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the wise and so was comforted.  (From her diary, September, 1835.)

Angelina prayed about the remonstrance from the Quakers in Philadelphia but knew that her call from God was stronger. And so the Grimke sisters began to speak out against slavery. The strong Quaker society in Philadelphia opposed the sisters so much that they decided to move to New York city where they become agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

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At first Angelina began to hold abolition meetings in New York city for women. Soon however, Angelina and Sarah found themselves speaking to mixed groups of men and women. This was shocking behavior in the nineteenth century and the sisters were ridiculed and castigated. The sisters courageously continued because they knew that freeing the enslaved and ending discrimination were too important to quit.

The sisters began to be in demand as speakers. They traveled so much that Angelina’s health was in danger several times. Their lives were also often in danger due to riots and mob violence. Northerners were just as bigoted against black people as Southerners and did not want to change things.

In 1838 Angelina made history as the first woman to speak before a legislative body in the United States. “I stand before you,” she told the members of the Massachusetts legislature as well as a crowd of enemies and supporters in the galleries, “on behalf of the 20,000 women of Massachusetts whose names are enrolled on petitions [which] relate to the great and solemn subject of slavery.”  Angelina pleaded for the end of not only slavery but of racial prejudice that she saw in the North.

Around this time Angelina met abolitionist Theodore Weld. They married on May 14, 1838. Angelina gave one more lecture and then terminated her speaking career. She would take her domestic duties seriously. She and Theodore bought a farm and Angelina had three children. Theodore continued to speak until his voice gave him trouble. In the years to follow the Weld’s and Sarah Grimke would teach in the schools that were established by Theodore. Of course these schools would be open to both boys and girls and black and white children. All three continued to attend meetings and write articles when they could for anti-slavery publications.

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Angelina lived until 1879. Though she wanted slavery to end peacefully she accepted the fact of war in the 1860’s. For the rest of her life she continued to work for the end to racial discrimination which did not end with the war. It still hasn’t.

After suffering from the effects of strokes for several years Angelina died on October 26, 1879. Theodore died in 1895. Many women today can thank Angelina and Sarah for their courage in pioneering justice and equal rights for both blacks and women.

 

 

 

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