Unmasking


by Gip Plaster

Angelina Weld Grimke

1893-1961

Teacher, Writer

[Editors: Please note that the last name of the subject is Grimke -- with an accent over the "e."]

Angelina Weld Grimke didn't waste any time. When she was 16, she wrote to one girl that if she weren't too young, she would ask the girl to be her wife.

"How my brain whirls, how my pulse leaps with joy and madness when I think of those two words, "my wife," she wrote.

After getting a degree in physical education in 1902, Grimke, whose father was the son of a white man and a black slave and whose mother was from a prominent white family, taught gym until 1907. Then she wrote and taught English.

Because much of her poetry reveals her love for women, it was deemed unpublishable in her time.

"Being a black lesbian poet in America at the beginning of the twentieth century meant that one wrote (or half wrote) -- in isolation," author Gloria Hull wrote of Grimke in Color, Sex and Poetry."It meant that when one did write to be published, she did so in shackles -- chained between the real experience and convention that would not give her voice."

To date, only about a third of her poetry has been published. She is perhaps best known for a play called "Rachael," the only one of her works published in a book. It is about an African-American woman who rejects marriage and motherhood and refuses to produce children for white society to torment with its racism.

Grimke's poems tell her story, though.

"Toss your gay heads, / Brown girl trees; / Toss you gay lovely heads," she wrote in the poem At April. In Rosabel, she wrote, "Winds, that breathe about, upon her / (Since I do not dare) / Whisper, twitter, breathe unto her / That I find her fair."

Those lines reveal the love that was not publishable in her day and the writer that society never allowed to share her art with the world.

unmasking OURstory © Copyright 1997 Gip Plaster
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