From the Archive: Archibald Henry Grimké
Archibald Henry Grimké (1849-1930) listed as a reader for June 1887. Athenæum Share Holders and Ticket Holders volume (1869-1894)
One ledger, Athenæum Share Holders and Ticket Holders, lists readers for the period 1869 to 1894 and recently I came across Archibald Henry Grimké’s name listed as a reader. This was a fascinating discovery. His name may not be familiar today, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries he was one of the most prominent people leading the struggle for African American rights. Grimké was a lawyer, author, diplomat, and was an avid protest leader. Grimké’s passion is not surprising since his aunts were the famous “Grimké Sisters”—fervent abolitionists and advocators for women’s rights. While Grimké was a lawyer in Boston he became a reader through the use of a reader’s ticket given to him by Mrs. Margarett Stevenson Curtis (Share 19), wife of Charles Pelham Curtis, Trustee (1829-1834), in 1887. Grimké’s path to the Athenæum was not typical, and upon entering the Athenæum he would have found many sympathizers and fellow abolitionists.
Archibald Henry Grimké was born a slave to Henry Grimké and Nancy Weston in South Carolina on August 17, 1849, on “Cane Acres” plantation near Charleston. Henry Grimké was a lawyer and planter and Nancy Weston was the family’s slave nurse. Apparently Nancy Weston did take the last name of Grimké, but Henry and Nancy probably never married. When Grimké, was growing up he was educated at Charleston schools, even though he was technically a slave, he still received an education. With the unexpected death of his father in 1860, Archibald and his brother Francis were returned to slavery to work as servants at his half-brother, E. Montague Grimké’s house. Henry wanted Nancy and her children to be treated as part of the family but unfortunately that wish was not honored by E. Montague. In 1863 Archibald escaped his half-brother’s house and spent that last year of the Civil War in hiding. Francis was sold to a Confederate Officer and had to wait for the war to end before gaining his freedom. After the war Archibald attended the Freedmen’s Bureaus’ newly created Morris Street School, then Lincoln University at Pennsylvania in 1867 where he earned a bachelor’s in 1870 and a master’s in 1872.
Sarah Grimké (1792-1873) and Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-1879) were responsible for Archibald’s move to Boston. In 1868, Angelina Grimké Weld was reading the Anti-Slavery Standard and came across an entry about a young man named Archibald Henry Grimké who delivered a “fine address” at Lincoln University. Angelina was curious about this young man, with the Grimké name, and wrote to him a letter of introduction, stating that she is the daughter of Dr. John Grimké of Charleston, and wondering if he was once a slave of one of her brother’s. Both Sarah and Angelina had left Charleston for the north in 1829, both having strong feelings that slavery was wrong, an opinion in opposition of their family, and would not have met young Grimké beforehand. Archibald responded enthusiastically to the letter from “Miss Angelina Grimké of Anti-Slavery celebrity,” with a full description of his life. With his aunts’ support (emotionally and financially) and their encouragement, in 1872 Archibald entered Harvard Law School graduating in 1874.
Grimké had a truly full life in Massachusetts. When Grimké was twenty-four, after graduation from Harvard Law School, he worked at the law firm of William Bowditch and then in 1875 he gained admission to the Suffolk County bar. Three years later, in 1878, he was appointed as a justice of the peace and a year later he married Sarah E. Stanley and they had one child, Angelina Weld Grimké, born in 1880. The first African-American newspaper the Hub, was created by Grimké in 1883. Almost ten years later he was appointed to serve as counsel in the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic); a position he held till 1898. Later that same year he returned to the United States to participate and influence many, if not all, the foremost African-American organizations of the times, working with Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois. In 1901 he attended the NAACP’s founding conference in 1909 and continued to foster the continuation of the organization. Archibald Henry Grimke died in 1930 while living with his daughter and brother in Washington D.C. Grimke’s papers are at Howard University.
Works by Archibald Henry Grimké, with classification numbers, in the Boston Athenæum
Eulogy on Wendell Phillips / by Archibald H. Grimké, delivered in Tremont Temple, Boston, April 9, 1884; together with the proceedings incident thereto, letters, etc.18845 .9B v.38TBMR (Appointment required)Inscribed: “Mr. Fred. May Holland with compliments of A. H. Grimke.”Gift of F. M. Holland on July 29, 1896
Life of Charles Sumner, the scholar in politics
65 .Su65 .g
Boston Library Society, April 19, 1892
Athenæum, January 11, 1940
Colored National League. Open letter to President McKinley by colored people of Massachusetts.
TBMR (Appointment required)
Anonymous gift on November 24, 1899
The American Negro Academy. Papers of The American Negro Academy, read at the nineteenth annual meeting of the American Negro academy, Washington, D.C., December 28th and 29th, 1915.
D9455 .8Am3 .p
TBMR (Appointment required)
Gift of Grimké on December 16, 1916, while he was the president of The American Negro Academy
Shame of America, or, The Negro’s case against the Republic
Tract (Appointment required)
Gift of Grimké on April 23, 1924.
Why disfranchisement is bad
D9455 .G879 .w
TBMR (Appointment required)
Gift of Grimké on January 26, 1905
William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist
65 .G195 .g
Athenæum purchase on May 7, 1892ReferencesArchibald Grimké, portrait of a black independent, Dickson D. Bruce Jr., Louisiana State University Press, 1993.The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina, pioneers for women’s rights and abolition, Gerda Lerner, University of North Carolina Press, 2004.“Rebels Against Slavery,” Laurence L/ Winship, The Boston Sunday Globe, March 10, 1968.Who’s Who in New England, edited by Albert Nelson Marquis, A. N. Marquis & Company, 1909.American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, “Grimké, Archibald Henry,” by Johnie D. Smith. Oxford University Press, New York, 1999.