Black Voices in Education: Charlotte Forten Grimke

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Today, our Black Voices in Education Series highlights Charlotte Forten Grimke, an anti-slavery activist, poet, and educator who helped teach the formerly enslaved in South Carolina. Charlotte was born in 1837 to a prominent abolitionist family in Philadelphia, and was home-schooled with her siblings as their father did not want them to attend a segregated school. In 1856, while enrolled in now-Salem State University to become a teacher, Charlotte became increasingly involved in the abolitionist movement, publishing several poems in anti-slavery publications and calling for Black women’s participation in the movement.

In 1861, Charlotte was one of several teachers recruited by Federal authorities to teach emancipated former slaves on St. Helena Island in South Carolina. In her role, Charlotte taught her scholars how to read, about notable heroes in Black history, and shared stories and songs. After contracting pneumonia, Charlotte left St. Helena Island for Boston in 1864, where she served as secretary of the Boston branch of the Freedmen’s Union Commission and helped recruit and train teachers for freed enslaved people.

Charlotte moved to Washington, D.C. in 1872, where she helped establish the National Association of Colored Women and organized a women’s missionary group. Today, she is best known for her writing; Charlotte kept detailed diaries and accounts of her experiences with racism, teaching, and social justice. Her work has been published in anti-slavery periodicals, and her insightful diaries, “The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke,” were published posthumously in 1988, offering a unique perspective on the period of transition after the end of enslavement in America. Read more about Charlotte here.