Brief note on radical abolitionists and UGRR conductors Rev. Leonard A. Grimes (1815 – 1873) & Frederick Douglass

A plaque at 22nd & H Street NW recognizes Rev. Grimes. Photo by author.

At the northeast corner of 22nd & H Street NW, within the campus of George Washington University, rests a plaque recognizing Rev. Leonard A. Grimes, an abolitionist, conductor on the Underground Railroad, recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and confidant of Frederick Douglass.

In 2007 the plaque was installed to recognize the corner as being the residence of Rev. Grimes from 1836 to 1846.

According to the National Park Service:

“[Grimes] became a hackman in the District of Columbia and discovered that his profession provided the perfect cover for such illegal activity. He contributed to an unknown number of escapes before he was finally arrested and convicted,”

Reverend Leonard Grimes, abolitionist, conductor on the Underground Railroad, and first pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church ("The Fugitives Church"), Boston) - G.H. Loomis, cartes de visite, 7 LCCN2017660624 (cropped).jpgFollowing his release from prison in Virginia for aiding fugitive slaves, Grimes moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the Douglass family was well-known.

During the early 1850s Rev. Grimes played a pivotal role in the fugitive slave case of Anthony Burns, which was a national and international news sensation.

An 1856 account of the case says thusly:

The extradition of Anthony Burns as a fugitive slave was the most memorable case of the kind that has occurred since the adoption of the Federal Constitution. It was memorable for the place and for the time of its occurrence; the place being the ancient and chief seat of Liberty in America, and the time being just the moment when the cause of Liberty bad received a most wicked and crushing blow from the hand of the Federal Government. It was memorable also for the difficulty with which it was accomplished, for the intense popular excitement which it caused, for the unexampled expense which it entailed, for the grave questions of law which it involved, for the punishment which it brought down upon the head of the chief actor, and for the political revolution which it drew on.

The Rev. L. A. Grimes bore a large share in the transactions here narrated, and I have relied chiefly upon his authority in recounting such matters as came within his personal cognizance.

Rev. Grimes and Frederick Douglass shared the same cause and united in the same spaces several times before Grimes passed in 1873.

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“Emancipation Day in Boston.” The Liberator, 16 January, 1863. p 4.

In January of 1863 Douglass and Grimes, as well as countless abolitionists and reformists, shared the stage at Tremont Temple in Boston to recognize the issuance of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Grimes and Douglass, and others, would subsequently activate their networks to advocate for the enlistment of “Colored Troops” in the Union war effort, specifically the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry.

In order to move beyond the limiting mythology and incomplete scholarship that has restrained Douglassonian Studies from developing an infrastructure similar to that which exists for Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln, we must begin to elevate the networks and associations of all those who worked on the front lines to abolish the institution of slavery and advocate for greater reforms of equality and Civil Rights for all.

 

 

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