Francis Grimke's Christian Critique of Slavery

Dan Graves, MSL
Francis Grimke's Christian Critique of Slavery

Francis J. Grimké was the son of wealthy Henry Grimké, a white planter, and Nancy Weston, a black slave. He was born in 1850 at Caneacres, a rice plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. His white aunts were Quaker abolitionists, the most notable of whom was Angelina.

When Henry Grimké died in 1852, his will freed Francis and placed him under the guardianship of his white half-brother, Montague. Eight years later, when Montague threatened to enslave Francis, who was now ten years old, he fled and served as valet to a Confederate officer. When Grimké visited Charleston some months later, Montague seized and imprisoned him. Francis became ill and would have died had his mother not been allowed to nurse him. Before he was completely well again, his brother Montague sold him to another officer. But at the end of the war, Francis was emancipated with other African-Americans.

Abolitionists Angelina and Sarah Grimké now acknowledged Francis' relationship to them and various individuals gave him financial aid to attend Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Later, feeling drawn to the ministry, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary from which he graduated in 1878.

On this day, July 7, 1878, Francis was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He would spend over fifty years in the pulpit, most of it at Washington's 15th Street Presbyterian Church. He was noted as one of the most articulate opponents of racism: "Race prejudice can't be talked down, it must be lived down."

He was convinced that if Blacks put their trust in God, He would strengthen them as he strengthened the Israelites. "The race that puts its trust in God has always, under all circumstances, more for it than against it." One of Grimké's strongest arguments for equality was this: "Another great principle of the religion of Jesus Christ is, that all Christians are one in him--together they constitute one family."

Like his contemporary Booker T. Washington, the educator of Tuskegee, Grimké emphasized honesty, hard work, thrift and eternal values, denouncing loose sexual morals. "It is only what is written upon the soul of man that will survive the wreck of time," he said. However, when Grimké perceived Booker T. Washington was going soft on civil rights, he sided with the more radical and socialistic W. E. B. Dubois and helped bring into existence the NAACP. He also helped found the American Negro Academy.


  1. African American Registry.
  2. Grimké, Francis J. "A Resemblance and a Contrast; sermon delivered October 12th, 1902," in American Sermons; the Pilgrims to Martin Luther King, jr. New York: Library of America, 1999.
  3. Kerr, Hugh T. Sons of the Prophets; leaders in Protestantism from Princeton Seminary. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1963.
  4. Woodson, Carter G., editor. The Works of Francis J. Grimké. Washington, D.C.: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1942.
  5. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated May, 2007.

Originally published April 28, 2010.