Activist, scholar. Grimké was born on August 17, 1849, at Cane Acre plantation outside Charleston, one of three sons of Henry Grimké, a planter and lawyer, and Nancy Weston, a slave in the Grimké family. He was also the nephew of Henry’s abolitionist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimké. After Henry’s death in 1852, his mother took Grimké and his brothers, Francis and John, to Charleston, where, though legally enslaved, they lived a quasi-free existence. With the coming of the Civil War, however, Henry’s white son Montague sought to reassert control over them, forcing the brothers into household slavery. In 1862 Grimké ran away, going into hiding for the duration of the war.
After the war, Grimké and his brothers were enrolled in a school for former slaves, where they caught the eye of its principal, the former abolitionist Frances Pillsbury. She arranged for Grimké and his brother Francis to attend Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, which they entered in 1867. In 1868 an article on Lincoln came to the attention of their aunt, Angelina Grimké Weld. The article singled out the Grimké brothers as outstanding students, and Angelina, recognizing the name, sought them out, acknowledged their kinship, and became their patron. With the assistance of her husband, Theodore Dwight Weld, and her sister Sarah, Angelina helped them to complete their work at Lincoln. Grimké received a master’s degree in 1872 and continued his education at Harvard Law School.
Following his graduation from Harvard in 1874, Grimké established himself in Boston. He returned to South Carolina only once in his adult life, in 1906. On April 19, 1879, he married Sarah Stanley, daughter of an abolitionist Episcopal priest. The marriage was to dissolve in 1883, but not before the birth of a daughter, Angelina Weld Grimké, who later gained prominence as a poet and writer. Entering politics in 1883 as the editor of a Republican Party newspaper, Grimké soon after broke with the Republicans and became a highly visible activist in Boston’s Democratic Party by the end of the decade. He was ultimately rewarded for his loyalty by being named by President Grover Cleveland as the American consul to the Dominican Republic (1894–1899).
On his return to the United States, Grimké settled in Washington, D.C. From 1903 to 1919, he served as president of the American Negro Academy, the leading intellectual organization for African Americans. He also became entangled in the bitter competition between partisans of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, acknowledging the significance of Washington’s achievements, but opposing Washington’s more conciliatory approaches to race relations. After 1913 he devoted himself to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving until 1923 on its national board. Through 1924 he also served as president of the District of Columbia branch, becoming a key figure in the NAACP’s efforts to oppose racial discrimination at the federal level. Grimké died in Washington on February 25, 1930, and was buried in Harmony Cemetery, Washington,
Bruce, Dickson D., Jr. Archibald Grimké: Portrait of a Black Independent. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
Meier, August. Negro Thought in America, 1880–1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963.