Born this day in 1873: Charlotte Forten Grimké (1873–1914), abolitionist, civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, educator of freed blacks, journalist, and diarist
Charlotte Forten, a native of Pennsylvania, was born a free black to a wealthy African American family at the forefront of the abolition movement. She was educated in Salem, Massachusetts, and later became a teacher herself. She was the first African American teacher to teach white students.
Forten was an active abolitionist, raising money for the cause and contributing to anti-slavery publications such as The Liberator. With the arrival of the Civil War, she turned her attention to educating the newly emancipated. A sosphisticated and cultured woman herself, she joined an educational experiment to demonstrate to Northerners that all that stood between African Americans and achievements equal to that of whites was opportunity and education. The Port Royal Experiment, as it was called, prepared former slaves for the economic and social independence they would need following the war.
|Former slaves prepare cotton for ginning in Port Royal. |
Freed men and women earned wages and received and education.
In 1862 she headed to Port Royal, South Carolina, teaching former slaves who fled their plantations upon the arrival of Union forces. She recounted her experiences, “Life on the Sea Islands,” in the Atlantic Monthly in 1864. She was a faithful diarist and left posterity a detailed account of the life she lead. Her diaries reveal the problematic intersections of race and class as well as chronicle of a society’s struggle against racism and sexism.
She left South Carolina after contracting smallpox. In 1878 she married Francis J. Grimké, an activist from another prominent abolitionist family. She continued working with freedmen and women and advocating for equality of the races. She also became active in the women’s rights movement.
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