Angelina Weld Grimké [1880-1958] was born on February 27 in Boston and lived most of her life with her father to whom she was extremely attached emotionally. Soon after Angelina's birth, her mother left the Grimké household. Information concerning Sarah Stanley Grimké is not readily available, it appears that she may have been confined to a mental institution. Angelina was named for her white great aunt, Angelina Grimké Weld.
As a young woman, Weld, along with her sister, Sarah Grimké, left South Carolina in the early nineteenth century to avoid being involved in owning slaves. The two sisters settled in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and became well-known abolitionists and advocates of women's rights. At age seven Angela received a letter from her mother which included beautiful metaphors and imagery. It is said that Angelina was awe-inspired by her mother's ability to write prose so beautifully. This may have very well been what prompted Ms. Weld Grimke to write poetry.
Angelina's father seems to have been the source of her restrictions and opression with her sexuality. She was self-consciousness about being a lesbian. She decided to forgo the expression of her lesbian desires in order to please her father, and in her poem written to commemorate his fifty-fifth birthday she describes what she would have been without him in terms of a great horror and scandal avoided. Evidence of her sexuality appeared as early as the age fourteen where she wrote love letters to her lover, Mamie Burrill in 1896.
Grimké was educated at Fairmont Grammar School in Hyde Park (1887-1894), Carleton Academy in Northfield, Minnesota (1895), Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, and Girls' Latin School in Boston, and in 1902 she took a degree in physical education at the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics (now Wellesley College). That same year she began her teaching career as a gym teacher at Armstrong Manual Training School in Washington, D.C., but in 1907, after much tension with the principal of Armstrong, she transferred to the more academic M Street High School (later Dunbar High School) where she taught English.
Through her father's assistance, Grimké repudiates her own self-molding and takes her dependent imprint from him. Finally, after depicting the care he has given her through her life, Grimké gives her father her highest compliment, "You have been a gentle mother to your child." That is, the best she can say about her father is that he is almost a mother.
Much of the work of Angelina Wel Grimke has been rigorously ignored. Most of the poems were too lesbian and too sentimental for audiences during and after the Harlem Renaissance. Her fiction, on the other hand, was too stark in its unflinching descriptions of the violence of lynching. Her scenes of violence were unknown in African-American fictional literature prior to the work of Richard Wright. Her short stories with their announcements of racial self-genocide have been too politically and emotionally threatening for African Americans, and others to receive and accept.
When considering the sizable body of work Angelina Grimke produced, it is important to note that very little of her work was published. The times were not friendly to a person such as Ms. Grimke. Not only was it difficult for a Black woman to be published, but the fact that she was a Black lesbian woman at a time when such sexuality was not spoken of or in any way acceptable, made it that much more difficult when trying to become published, as well as being heard.
In 1930, after her father died, Angelina Grimke moved to New York and published nothing more. She lived there in seclusion and died on June 10, 1958.
I have just seen a beautiful thing
Slim and still,
Against a gold, gold sky,
Always at dusk, the same tearless experience,
The same dragging of feet up the same well-worn path
To the same well-worn rock;
There is a tree, by day,
That, at night, Has a shadow,
A hand huge and black,
With fingers long and black.
You are like a pale purple flower
In the blue spring dusk
You are like a yellow star