Book Reviews

The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in An American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge (2022)

Back in January, I had the opportunity to read this FANTASTIC book with my two good friends, Audra Russell @betweenthereadspodcast and Demetrius Frazier @resist-bks. The Grimkes centers around the Charleston, South Carolina born abolitionist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their greatly unknown Black family.

Both Sarah and Angelina leave their family’s plantation and denounce the evils of slavery. Throughout history they have been lauded as distinguished reformers, but what has not been talked about was that much of their work was made possible by the work of Black reformers and suffragettes such as Charlotte Forten and Sarah Douglass. In this book we are introduced to the elite Black abolitionist families of Philadelphia, the Fortens, The Purvises, and more.

Another shadowed fact was their Black family. The Grimke Sisters’ brother, Henry had three sons (Archibald, Francis and John) with an enslaved woman by the name of Nancy Weston, who lived as his common law wife. Although Nancy and her sons were born into slavery, Henry Grimke had allowed them to live a life of partial freedom. This all ended upon his death, when his son Montague became the owners of the Grimke brothers and threw them into a life of abuse and servitude.

The Grimke Sisters took up the education of their nephews. Many would find this to be endearing, but in my opinion it was more so to their benefit. It was to absolved them of being related to people who still participated in the ‘peculiar institution.” People whose very livelihood was made off of the bodies of enslaved people. They were to be revered for doing this for their Black nephews.

Both Archibald and Francis Grimke became prominent members of the Black elite of Philadelphia, Archibald even more so in Washington, DC as a prominent diplomat. Archibald Grimke was also the father of renown poet and playwright, Angelina Weld Grimke.

I really enjoyed this book because it caused me to completely re-evaluate all that I had learned about the Grimke Sisters. From a very early age here in South Carolina, we are taught about them and their tireless fight for the abolition of slavery and how they left all they knew to do so. What we were not taught was how their work only followed Black abolitionists who had been well established in their effort to end slavery and create equality for Black people. I was also interested in the Black Grimkes, because I had only ever heard of Angelina Weld Grimke and had never took the time to see how she fit into this family.

Greenidge did a wonderful job researching this topic. It was as if she was in the present during this era witnessing the events unfold before her very eyes. Her writing is very easy to read and understand and the supporting cast of characters only makes me want to do even more study on the families featured in this book. This was a Five Star read for me.

If you are interested in The Grimkes, please grab a copy here. Also, be sure to check out Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter by Kerri K. Greenidge.

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