Slavery’s Indelible Stain on a White Abolitionist Legend

Michael Jeffries in The New York Times:

Born at the turn of the 19th century, the Grimke sisters, Angelina and Sarah, left their slaveholding family in Charleston, S.C., as young adults and made new lives for themselves as abolitionists in the North. In 1838, Angelina became the first woman to speak before a legislative body in the United States when she addressed the Massachusetts Legislature and called for an immediate end to slavery. In the same speech, she made a passionate case for women’s rights, insisting that women belonged at the center of major political debates. “Are we aliens because we are women?” she asked. “Are we bereft of citizenship because we are the mothers, wives and daughters of a mighty people?”

The Grimke sisters became celebrities, publishing essays that shaped abolitionist thinking and reluctantly stepping into a male-dominated public sphere where they were never completely welcome. Their fame derived from both their words and their deeds. They rejected their white inheritance by coming north and joining the movement, gaining moral credibility that few of their peers could match. But in her new book, “The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family,” the historian Kerri Greenidge challenges this narrative, showing that the sisters’ contributions to abolition and women’s rights were undergirded by the privileges they reaped from slavery. The lives they built, and their relationships with Black relatives, were poisoned by the profits, violence and shame of white supremacy.

More here.