Who: Charlotte Forten Grimké, the first African American educator from the North to teach slaves in the South; abolitionist, advocate of social justice, and author
Why She Dazzles: Born into an influential and affluent family in Pennsylvania in 1837, Charlotte was the only African American woman of 200 students attending her grammar school. She continued her education and received her teaching certificate, and when the Civil War began, Charlotte left to teach fleeing slaves off the coast of South Carolina because she wanted to contribute to the Union cause. She also wrote poetry that appeared in antislavery publications.
Why You Need to Know Her Today: Charlotte wrote diaries about her life, notably during the time leading up to when the Civil War ended slavery. Her diaries, The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké, published in the 1980s and revealed a rare perspective of a free black woman in antebellum America. She continued to contribute essays throughout her life—indeed an intellectual, cultured, and active voice of equality during and after the war.
What She Would Say—Because She Wrote It Then: “The long, dark night of the Past, with all its sorrows and its fears, was forgotten; and for the Future—the eyes of these freed children see no clouds in it. It is full of sunlight, they think, and they trust in it, perfectly.”—Charlotte in Life on the Sea Islands
What She Would Wear to Church Tonight: A cross around her neck. Charlotte married the Reverend Frances Grimké, a Presbyterian minister who used his church in Washington, D.C, as a civil rights platform. As a devout Christian, she organized a women’s missionary and together, their home became a social and intellectual gathering place.
What She Would Send to Her Friend: Poetic words by William Shakespeare with space for a personalized note. Charlotte published poems in leading African American periodicals, and some of the greats—Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth—influenced her work.
Where She Would Instagram: St. Helena’s Island in South Carolina. Charlotte stayed here for two years before she became ill and had to return north, however, her diaries divulged her determination to help the islanders who spoke only Gullah and had never attended school. She wrote about her experiences, which appeared in a two-part essay Life on the Sea Islands in Atlantic Monthly in 1884. One of her greatest moments—meeting Harriet Tubman, someone who similarly helped freed slaves until the end of her life.
Tweet This: Charlotte Forten Grimké’s journals are a rare example of documents detailing the life of a free black female in the antebellum North; the activist and author’s house in Washington D.C., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places #anewlady