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Grimké, Francis James

GrimkÉ, Francis James

October 4, 1850
November 11, 1937

The minister and author Francis James Grimké was born on Caneacres, a rice plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. He was the son of Henry Grimké, a wealthy white lawyer, and his African-American slave Nancy Weston, who also bore the elder Grimké two other sons, Archibald (18491930) and John (b. 1853). Henry Grimké died in September 1852, and the mother and children lived for several years in a de facto free status. This ended in 1860 when E. Montague Grimké, the boys' half-brother, to whom ownership had passed, sought to exercise his "property rights." Francis Grimké ran away from home and joined the Confederate Army as an officer's valet. Montague Grimké eventually sold him to another officer, whom Francis Grimké served until Emancipation. In 1866, he began his educational journey at Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), where he came to the notice of his white abolitionist aunts, Angelina Grimké Weld (18051879) and Sarah Moore Grimké (17921873), who acknowledged his kinship and encouraged his further study, providing moral and material support.

Francis Grimké began the study of law at Lincoln after graduating at the head of his undergraduate class in 1870. He continued to prepare for a legal career, attending Howard University in 1874, but felt called to the ministry and entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1875. Upon graduation from the seminary in 1878, Grimké began his ministry at the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and married Charlotte L. Forten of Philadelphia. In 1880, Theodora Cornelia, their only child, died in infancy. From 1885 to 1889, Grimké served the Laura Street Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He then returned to Washington and remained as pastor at the 15th Street Church until 1928, when he became pastor emeritus.

Grimké's pulpit afforded him access to one of the most accomplished African-American congregations in America; the members expected and received sermons that addressed issues of faith and morals with ethical insight, literary grace, and prophetic zeal. He practiced what he preached, earning himself the sobriquet "Black Puritan." Through printed sermons and articles, Grimké encouraged a national audience to agitate for civil rights "until justice is done." He campaigned against racism in American churches and helped form the Afro-Presbyterian

Council to encourage black moral uplift and self-help. He also participated in the creation of organizations such as the American Negro Academy, which nurtured African-American development.

While not normally an activist outside the church, Grimké was an active supporter of Booker T. Washington's self-help efforts. However, in the early years of the twentieth century, he joined the group of African-American "radicals" led by W. E. B. Du Bois. He sided with Du Bois against Washington at the Carnegie Hall Conference (1906), which led to the schism between Washington and the radicals, and he later became a strong and longtime supporter of the NAACP.

In 1923 Grimké aroused a storm of controversy with his Howard University School of Religion convocation address, "What Is the Trouble with Christianity Today?" In the address he denounced groups such as the YMCA and the "federation of white churches" for their racist practices, and he also challenged the sincerity of the faith of former president Woodrow Wilson. Legislators, led by Representative James Byrnes of South Carolina, protested the address and tried to remove Grimké from Howard's board of trustees by threatening Howard's federal budget appropriation. Grimké retired in 1925 and lived in Washington, D.C., until his death in 1937.

See also American Negro Academy (ANA); Du Bois, W. E. B.; Grimké, Angelina Weld; Grimké, Archibald Henry; Grimké, Charlotte L. Forten; Washington, Booker T.


Woodson, Carter G., ed. The Works of Francis James Grimké. 4 vols. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1942.

henry j. ferry (1996)

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