Picture a majestic, white plantation house, surrounded by acres and acres of golden crops and trees ripe with fruit. Inside the house, children run down the softly carpeted hallways, their laughter tinkling with innocent joy. The Master and the Lady of the house sit in the parlor, he smoking a pipe, and she embroidering. All reigns peacefully in this southern utopia. All except for the slaves. The individuals hidden behind the drapes, quietly bringing in the food, brushing away the dust, and pouring their life energies into tilling and working the land. The young man, who feels the harsh lash of the whip every time he makes a noise appears, opens the house door to let in guests. The woman who struggles everyday to scrape together enough food to feed her family, attends to the Master’s children, organizing heaps of toys and clothes into tidy piles. Such was the harsh, paradoxical reality of the Grimké sisters, whose upbringing on a wealthy South Carolinian farm boded nothing for them but the expectations of a life a luxury, based on a strong foundation of slave labor and discrimination. Yet Sarah and Angelina defied expectation, and moved North upon reaching adulthood. There they began to actively fight slavery, attending rallies and speaking out against the inhumanities they had observed. By examining detailed accounts of their childhood experiences, and their subsequent reactions to the brutality they witnessed, the path and impact of the abolitionist activism promoted by the two sisters can be traced. The trail of their journey follows a road that includes letters written to influential activists, a New England tour widely considered controversial, and speaking in front of Congress. The pamphlets, books, and speeches written by and about Angelina and Sarah Grimké reveal the horror and violence behind, as well as provide evidence against, the seemingly peaceful southern culture. Thus, the Grimké sisters’ first-hand perspective on slavery as a result of their southern heritage allowed them to become key figures in the southern abolitionist movement during the antebellum era.
The main background of the poster is one depicting what was soon to become the Confederate States of America. The Grimké sisters lived during the antebellum era, a time period of about 50 years of turmoil and conflicting that culminated into the outbreak of the American Civil War. Thus, while this area of the nation was not yet the Confederacy, it represents the American South, childhood home of the Grimké sisters, and home to slavery and southern sectionalism. The alternating colors of green and brown symbolize the contrasting images of the South- the luscious green representing the face of the South, with its prospering farms reflecting the principles of the Yeoman’s Ideal, and the brown representing the so- called dirt of the South; the slaves and the cruelty strikingly contrasting the first image. The faded Confederate flag drawn on one of the states foreshadows the war that is to come, fueled by the raging debate presented by the Grimké sisters and other abolitionists, politicians, and Northerners against the South. It was during this time that Angelina and Sarah Grimké began their lives in South Carolina, born to a prosperous Charleston judge who owned a prominent plantation, home to a multitude of slaves. From a young age, Sarah, who was 12 years older than Angelina, had already begun to shrink away from the lavish lifestyle expected from her as the daughter of a southern gentleman. As soon as she came of age, Sarah left for Philadelphia, where she joined the Quakers, a religious group whose beliefs on slavery closely mirrored her own. The Liberty Bell in the top right corner of the poster symbolizes Sarah’s, and later Angelina’s (who later joined her sister in Philadelphia) ties to Philadelphia, a city long reputed for not only being one of the nation’s founding cities, but also a city which held its arms open for abolitionists. The image of a southern lady, sitting in her parlor, and sewing under the beatific watch of the Christian cross, alludes to the heavy irony of her behavior (which was mirrored by the majority of southern ladies at the time), especially in regards to the two child slaves hanging from her image, begging for her compassion and aid. Other similar depictions of slavery injustices are the runaway slave (located on the state of Texas), the picture of the three imprisoned slaves, and the picture of the bloodied whip. All of these images are drawn to represent the realities the Grimké sisters were trying to shed light on. The cross with the chains hanging from it is another demonstration of the irony of the southern situation, where the professed sinless lifestyles of the southerners are contrasted with their treatment of salves and acceptance of slavery. The rest of the drawings tell of the actual impact the two sisters had on the abolitionist movement. The four quotes branching out across the states (in orange ribbons) are excerpts from documents either narrated or written by one or both of the sisters. They summarize many of the appeals made by Angelina and Sarah to their fellow southern women, as well as countrymen. Their words are spreading out over the country (this also includes New England, although not shown in the poster), spreading their message across the states. Also in the top right corner of the post is an orange circle, the inside revealing a picture of two women speaking to a large crowd. This represents Angelina Grimké speaking in front of a Massachusetts legislature, petitioning and advocating the antislavery cause, becoming the first woman to speak before Congress (one of the quotations is from the speech given by Angelina to the legislature). The red arrows pointing towards this circle stand for all the criticism and hate directed towards the sisters not only for their abolitionist cause, but also because of their political careers as women. The picture of a burning alludes to the burning of many of the pamphlets written by the sisters in the South, such as An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, by Angelina Grimké. This document, along with the thousand testimonies against slavery detailed in the book American Slavery as it is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, brought slavery to a new gory and violent light; two of the testimonies detailed by Sarah are written on the poster, and the irony of the southern indifference to the plight of the slaves heavily evident. The inspiration for the pivotal book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was in fact based around the atrocities documented in the book, which was written by Thomas Weld, Angelina’s husband. The small circle illustrating two intertwined hands is important in knowing that unlike many abolitionists, the Grimké sisters were interested not only in abolition, but also in racial equality. The final element of the poster is a growing sapling, which with its spreading and lengthening roots represents the growing and spreading abolitionist movement taking root in antebellum America, this movement that is majorly orchestrated by these two southern sisters.
The upbringing of Angelina and Sarah Grimké allowed them to bring forward the harsh realities of the south, thus promoting them as figureheads in the antebellum abolitionist movement. They fled their childhood culture, migrating to an area of the country where they felt they could best spread their message, and thus began a lifetime of work that impacted the entire nation, preaching personal and vivid messages of southern atrocities. The sisters contributed largely to the spark that igniting the flame of the Civil War, speaking out in public and preaching to listening crowds of the sinfulness of slavery. They became political pioneers, especially as women, and accomplish more than many other known abolitionists combined. Their literature influences leave a lasting mark on history, permanently recording their impact, experiences, and beliefs for posterity. Their story just serves to show that where a person comes from doesn’t matter, its what he or she chooses to do with their experiences that truly defines him or her as an individual. The Grimké sisters took their past and used it to their advantage, and as a result helped changed the course of American society.
"Angelina and Sarah Grimke: Abolitionist Sisters." The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. Grimké, Angelina E. "Address to the Massachusetts Legislature." Massachusetts State Legislature. Feb. 1838. Address. Grimké, Angelina E. An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1836. Print. McGuire, William, and Leslie Wheeler. "Angelina Grimké." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. "Renegade South." Renegade South. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. "Sarah and Angelina Grimké." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. Weld, Theodore D. American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839. Print.