Happy Black History Month! This is the 10th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. Each blog focuses on the life and career of a Black American whose life has shaped American history.
The focus of today’s blog is Angelina Weld Grimké, the American writer who wrote the play Rachel which became the first play performed, written, and directed by an all-Black cast.
Losing Her Mother
In 1880, Angelina Weld Grimké was born to Sarah Stanley and Archibald Grimke, Vice President of the NAACP, and the 2nd Black person to graduate from Harvard Law (BlackPast). Angelina was young when her mother and father divorced. She spent half of her childhood with her mother in the midwest and half with her father in Boston. Once she moved away from her mother, Sarah Stanley sadly committed suicide (RoundAboutTheatre).
Phys Ed to English
Back in Boston, Grimké attended what is now Wellesley College. Then, it was the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. She began taking classes at Harvard and graduated in 1902 with a degree in Physical Education (RoundAboutTheatre). She began her career teaching in Washington D.C. at Armstrong Manual Training School, then at M Street School. While there, she also taught English, which is when her writing really took off (BlackPast).
She wrote poetry, short stories, and essays, all of which focused on racial injustice, and what it meant to be a Black American. These were all featured in several sources, according to BlackPast. Leading up to 1916, Grimké wrote a play called Rachel in response to the movie “Birth Of A Nation”, which gave racist depictions of Black Americans while glorifying white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan. 1916 was the year Rachel was first performed, produced by the NAACP in Washington D.C. It was produced again the following year and published in 1920 (RoundAboutTheatre).
Suspected To Have Been Queer
It is suspected that Grimké was queer, as her poetic writings were often romantic, and some of them were directed towards women (RoundAboutTheatre). Her father is also believed to have known, but he disapproved. She retired in 1928 to take care of her father, who had developed a long-term illness. When he passed in 1930, Grimké moved to New York and stopped writing altogether. She passed away in 1958.