My student, Katrina Hall, researched the life of Angelina Grimke, one of the early women to voice their dismay of slavery. The following story of her life helped shape our values today, and her work is still not done in light of the recent protests caused by several shootings of young black men. I had not learned of this courageous soul, but for the paper of Katrina Hall. The following words are hers:
Angelina Grimke was an American activist who publicly spoke out about slavery at Pennsylvania Hall in 1838. She was born in Charleston, North Carolina in 1803 to a traditional, upper-class, Southern-values family. Her family was heavily involved in the Episcopal Church. At the age of 13, Angelina refused to recite the required pledged needed to complete her confirmation because she stood firmly against some of the beliefs. This act of rebellion set the path for her adult life as activist and standing up for her own beliefs.
At the young age of 21, Grimke decided to convert to the Presbyterian Church. While a member of the church, Grimke became close friends with a Northern who was currently the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Charleston. Rev. William, McDowell, the pastor, was extremely passionate against slavery in the states and shared this bond with the young Grimke. However, McDowell believed they should be patient and pray for God to handle the situation and this did not settle well with the radical young girl. In 1829, Angelina spoke out to the church against slavery and challenged the slave-owners to see her point-of-view and when the church members ever so politely declined, Angelina grew furious with the church.
At this time Angelina decided to team up with her elder sister, Sarah, and join the Quaker church hoping they would hold similar beliefs. As the Quaker Church was extremely small in Charleston, Grimke was too self-righteous and opinionated and quickly fell out with once again another church. Angelina Grimke soon realized her problem lay not in the particular Church or branch of the church, but in her location. She packed her bags up, along with her sister, and moved all the way north to Philadelphia.
As she spent time in this new city, Grimke grew into even more of a radical activist. She openly exposed herself as an extremely abolitionist in William Lloyd Garner’s The Liberator. This led to her becoming more involved with anti-slavery lectures and she later joined The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Not only was she an advocate for African America rights, she was strongly involved with women’s rights at the time. She began teaching, realizing the immediate need for education with women. (“Angelina”)
Pennsylvania Hall opened in Philadelphia on May 14, 1838 to provide as a sanctuary for discussing the negatives and “evils” of slavery. The following events happened 23 years before the start of the American Civil War. The idea of the hall was initiated because abolitionist in the area had a difficult time finding a common place for their meetings.
A joint-stock company in Philadelphia decided to fund the money needed for the construction of Pennsylvania Hall and over 2,000 locals bought shares of the company. The abolitionist, who did not have money to give, assisted by donating material items and their labor. Pennsylvania Hall stood its ground for four days.
The opening ceremony in the hall consisted of letters being read aloud of which were written by men of prominence such as: John Quincy Adams, Gerrit Smith and Theodore Weld. President Adams set forth the general feeling of the hall with one direct quote, “I learnt with great satisfaction. . . that the Pennsylvania Hall Association have erected a large building in your city, wherein liberty and equality of civil rights can be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery fearlessly portrayed. . . . I rejoice that, in the city of Philadelphia, the friends of free discussion have erected a Hall for its unrestrained exercise.”
That very same morning, the Anti-Slavery Convention for American Women gathered to meet at the hall – one of the few very fine women involved was our very own Angelina Grimke. When the third day arrived, the number of angry men outside the hall grew immensely. They began screaming and shouting, and they eventually broke inside. After the horde was forced out of the building by officials, they became violent from the outside, throwing rocks, sticks and anything they could get their hands on into the building. This is when Angelina Grimke took the stage to recite her breath-taking speech. (“Pennsylvania”)
Angelina Grimke’s Speech at Pennsylvania Hall. When it became time for Angelina Grimke to give her speech, the audience at Pennsylvania Hall grew from a few men to a mob of angry anti-abolitionists. Throughout the course of her speech the mass of people were hostile, throwing objects and yelling obscenities. They disagreed with the need to end slavery and the general concept of the hall – a safe haven to meet and speak out against the social norm. Angelina establishes her credibility very early on in the speech by reminding the audience that she is a white
American who grew up in a wealthy family in the south. Her parents were slave owners and she has seen the pure agony these men and women of color go through on a daily basis. The following quote from her speech is a good example of her reiterating her personal experience with the situation, “I witnessed for many years its demoralizing influences, and its destructiveness to human happiness. It is admitted by some that the slave is not happy under the worst forms of slavery. But I have never seen a happy slave. I have seen him dance in his chains, it is true; but he was not happy.” And “We may talk of occupying neutral ground, but on this subject, in its present attitude, there is no such thing as neutral ground. He that is not for us is against us, and he that gathereth not with us, scattereth abroad.”
In the last two paragraphs of her speech, she shifts attention to the women of the crowd. She reminds the women that though unfair, they have no such rights when it comes to voting and the only way for their voices to be heard it to petition. Men are the ones who are holding the slaves captives, men are the ones who have the power in the government, and women are the ones who are consistently abused and neglected. She states that, if anything, the women of the north (and the south) should come together and let their voices be heard.
The final, immediate outcome of her speech is horrific. The next day the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was scheduled to meet again. The mayor of Philadelphia felt it was better if only the white women were present, but the women refused. Because of this and the fact that the mob outside was only growing larger, the building manager cancelled all the remaining events and handed the keys over to the mayor. As soon as the mayor locked the doors and went on his way, the riotous mob broke in and set fire to Pennsylvania Hall, completely destroying it. The mob continued through the city setting a black orphanage and a black church on fire. Angelina Grimke’s speech was unsuccessful in persuading the mob that slavery was an evil that should be stopped. (“Pennsylvania”)
In 1998 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her work with women’s rights, black’s rights, and more specifically her powerful speech she gave at Pennsylvania Hall. (“Women”) In my opinion I feel that Angelina Grimke was one of the first feminist in American history. She believed in equal rights for all (black, white, man and woman) and publically spoke out and petitioned for changed.