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Francis J. Grinke
On this date in 1850, Francis James Grimke was born. He was a Black minister and author.
He was born in Cane Acres, a rice plantation near Charleston, SC, the son of a wealthy white man and Nancy Weston, a Black slave. After his father died and property rights on them were exercised by his half-brother Montague, Grimke ran away from home and joined the Confederate Army as an officer’s valet. He served there until Emancipation. After the American Civil War, his aunts Angela and Sarah Moore Grimke acknowledged their kinship and helped his education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
Grimke graduated at the head of his class in 1870 and began to study law, attending Howard University in 1874. He felt called to the ministry and re-enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 1878. He began ministry at the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. He married Charlotte L. Forten of Philadelphia. Though he had a short working rapport at a church in Jacksonville, FL, Grimke remained at 15th Street until 1928.
From his pulpit with one of the most accomplished African American congregations in America, he preached and encouraged a national audience to agitate for civil rights “until justice is done.” Grimke campaigned against racism in American churches and requested help from the Afro-Presbyterian Council to encourage Black moral uplift and self-help. He was also responsible for the creation of the American Negro Academy. Grimke supported Booker T. Washington’s self-help effort but joined the “radicals” of the times like W.E.B. Du Bois.
He sided with Du Bois at the Carnegie Hall Conference in 1906, which led to the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. In 1923, he created a controversy with his Howard University School of Religion convocation address, “What Is the Trouble with Christianity Today?” Here he denounced groups like the YMCA and the “federation of white churches” for their racist policies while challenging the sincerity of the faith of many political leaders. Francis Grimke, a true spiritual leader with a conviction for his people, lived in Washington, D.C., until his death in 1937.