Charlotte L. Forten Grimké (GRIHM-kee), black poet, teacher, and abolitionist, was the daughter of Robert Bridges Forten and Mary Virginia Wood Forten. Since the end of the eighteenth century, her father’s family had been active in abolitionist activities, starting with her grandfather, James Forten (1766-1842). After serving in the American Revolution as a ship’s powder boy, James Forten began work in a sailmaker firm in Philadelphia. He became foreman and, as a result of an invention for handling sails, accrued a fortune of $100,000. He became a leader in the Philadelphia black community and from 1800 on devoted himself to the antislavery movement. He opposed the objectives of the American Colonization Society (sending African Americans back to Africa) but later became an enthusiastic supporter of William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator. The elder Forten’s children and their spouses were also active abolitionists, and thus Charlotte grew up in the fine residence of her grandfather amid this antislavery atmosphere.
Her mother died when Charlotte was three, and the girl was brought up by her relatives. She was taught by tutors until she was sixteen because her father did not want to send her to segregated schools. However, in 1854 he sent her to Salem, Massachusetts, to live with abolitionist friends, Charles L. and Amy Remond, and to attend the nonsegregated Higginson Grammar School, where Charlotte excelled. Her poem “A Parting Hymn” was judged the best in her class and was commended at the graduation ceremony in February, 1856. During the previous year, her poem “To W.L.G. on Reading His ‘Chosen Queen’” had appeared in the Liberator; it was her first published work.
Upon her arrival at Salem, Charlotte Forten had begun to keep a journal, which she...
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