Archibald Henry Grimké
August 17, 1849 – February 25, 1930
Notable: Lawyer & Activist
Archibald Henry Grimké was born on the Cane Acres plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. His father Henry Grimké was a lawyer and member of the slave-owning planter class. Due to his mother Nancy Weston being the Grimké family’s enslaved nurse, Grimké was considered to have been born enslaved.
Despite being born into bondage, for a time Grimké was afforded some degree of privilege as he was allowed to attend school. But Grimké’s immediate family’s lifestyle changed after his father died unexpectedly when he was around 11 years old. Grimké’s father had left instructions for Grimké, his mother, and his brothers to continue to be treated as though they were family members (which they were). But instead, Grimké and his brother were sent to work in the household of their father’s son (their half-bother) as servants and were hired out laborers.
Like many other slaves, Grimké was able to use the activity of the Civil War to his advantage and managed to slip away. Though to avoid recapture he had to remain in hiding with family members until the war’s official end. One of his brothers, Francis, was less fortunate as he was sold to a Confederate Officer after being deemed rebellious. Unable to escape, Francis had to wait until the war’s end for emancipation.
The end of the Civil War brought a sort of return to the lifestyle that had been provided by his father. Grimké resumed his education by first enrolling at the Morris Street School. With the assistance of abolitionists, Grimké and his brothers relocated to Pennsylvania. Thus within two years of the war’s end, Grimké was attending Lincoln University from which he would obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
While attending Lincoln, Grimké and his brothers were mentioned in an article about the school and its students. The mention of their relatively uncommon name caught the attention of Angelina Grimké Weld. It turned out that Weld was one of Henry Grimké’s two sisters who had disagreed with slavery and relocated to the North. Upon discovering the connection, Weld and her sister, Sarah, acknowledged the Grimké boys and their mother as relatives. They provided them with assistance at Lincoln and their later relocation to Boston, Massachusetts.
In 1872, Grimké enrolled at Harvard Law School becoming one of its first Black students. Upon graduation, Grimké worked for a time at the William Bowditch law firm before establishing a practice. Grimké married Sarah E. Stanely on April 19, 1879, a White woman from the Midwest who was the daughter of an Episcopal priest. The marriage ended four years later but produced a daughter, Angelina Weld Grimké. After spending a few years in her mother’s care, Angelina went to live with Grimké and never saw her mother again. While Sarah later died by suicide, Angelina grew up to become a notable poet and writer.
During the 1880s, Grimké was deeply involved with politics and social issues. First via the Republican and later the Democratic Party. At different times during this period, Grimké served as editor of a political paper and justice of the peace. He was particularly active on the issue of equal rights for Black people in opposition to the figurative efforts to reenslave Black people following Reconstruction. Grimké also fervently supported equal rights for women at a time when many supported one or neither of the equality issues.
Grimké was a member of Frederick Douglass’s organization that aimed to address the need for education for Black people. He stood in opposition to Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist ideology and despite becoming a member felt the Niagara Movement didn’t go far enough. From the mid to late 1890s, Grimké served as counsel to the Dominican Republic (then Santo Domingo).
A few years after returning to America, Grimké relocated to Washington, D.C. He spent 13 years as president of the American Negro Academy and was a founding member of the NAACP. Over time Grimké became increasingly involved in leadership roles within the NAACP. He served on the NAACP’s national board and later as president of the D.C. branch and national vice president. While involved with the NAACP Grimké participated in campaigns to oppose a proposed ban on interracial marriages, segregation of federal offices, and unfair treatment of Black soldiers in the military.
On February 25, 1930, Archibald Henry Grimké died following a period of illness that had begun in 1928. His work to combat racial discrimination had been awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1919. A few years after Grimké’s death a school in D.C. was renamed in his honor.
- “Archibald Grimke, Journalist Born.” 2022. African American Registry. May 1, 2022. https://aaregistry.org/story/archibald-grimke-born/.
- Bruce, Dickson D. 2022. “Grimké, Archibald Henry.” South Carolina Encyclopedia. University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies. August 5, 2022. https://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/grimke-archibald-henry/.
- Bruce, Dickson. 2022. “Grimké, Archibald Henry.” Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Encyclopedia.com. November 16, 2022. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/social-sciences-and-law/social-reformers/archibald-henry-grimke.
- “From the Archive: Archibald Henry Grimké.” 2022. Boston Athenaeum. October 5, 2022. https://www.bostonathenaeum.org/blog/archibald-henry-grimke/.
- Ott, Chris. 2020. “Archibald Grimke (1849-1930).” Blackpast.org. August 18, 2020. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/grimke-archibald-1849-1930/.
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