cover image The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family

The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family

Kerri K. Greenidge. Liveright, $32.50 (416p) ISBN 978-1-324-09084-7

Tufts University historian Greenidge (Black Radical) delivers a revelatory study of the Grimke family and their complicated involvement in the fight for racial equality. Quaker sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke, suffering from spiritual guilt over slavery—yet willing to receive financial support from their slaveholding relatives—relocated from Charleston, S.C., to Philadelphia in the 1820s and became influential abolitionists and women’s rights activists who emphasized the detrimental effects of the “peculiar institution” on white women’s souls. After the Civil War, they learned that their brother Henry had fathered three sons by an enslaved woman, and Greenidge incisively details how the sisters’ relationships with their nephews, Archibald, Francis, and John Grimke, got tangled up in assumptions of white privilege and assertions of Black freedom. Also spotlighted are Francis Grimke’s wife, Charlotte Forten Grimke, a writer and teacher whose paternal grandmother and aunts cofounded one of America’s first abolitionist women’s organizations and frequently clashed with white women over ideology and tactics, and Archibald’s daughter, Harlem Renaissance playwright Angelina Weld Grimke, who promoted the concept of racial uplift, popular among middle- and upper-class Blacks as they distanced themselves from the poor and uneducated in pursuit of racial equality. Greenidge offers no tidy or optimistic conclusions about the long shadow of slavery, but readers will be riveted by how she brings these complex figures and their era to life. This is a brilliant and essential history. Illus. (Nov.)