LibPositives Historical Spotlight Joseph Rudolph Grimes


Joseph Rudolph Grimes, known as Liberia’s longest running Secretary of State, was born in Monrovia on October 31, 1923, to Chief Justice Louis Arthur Grimes and Victoria Grimes. He was married to Doris Duncan Grimes for 53 years, and he died in his New Jersey home on September 7, 2007, at the age of 84.

During his early years, Joseph Rudolph Grimes attended the College of West Africa (CWA), Liberia College (now University of Liberia), Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Columbia University in New York City, where he got his Master’s degree in International Affairs. After completing his education, Mr. Grimes returned home in the early 1950s and was appointed Counselor of the State Department. During this time, he founded the Louis Arthur Grimes Law School at the University of Liberia and served as its first dean.

In 1958, President William V.S. Tubman appointed Mr. Grimes Acting Secretary of State, succeeding Acting Secretary of State Momolu Dukuly. Mr. Grimes became full Secretary of State in 1960. He held this position until the end of 1971 after the death of President Tubman. During his term as Secretary of State, Mr. Grimes was instrumental in the resolution of regional African disputes (Congo, Biafra); helmed Liberia's active role in anti-colonization efforts and African solidarity; and was part of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU, now the African Union). He played a leading role in the formation of the OAU and in African Affairs at the United Nations throughout the 1960s.

According to friends and colleagues, Secretary Grimes was for over a decade a towering figure in the Security Council, Assemblies, committee rooms, and corridors of the United Nations. Because of his intelligence and his vast experience in international law, politics, and diplomacy, and being the Foreign Minister of Africa’s oldest independent republic, he was looked upon for leadership by all the other African foreign ministers.

The wonderful and generous life of Joseph Grimes came crushing down in 1985 when the Head of State Samuel Doe sent soldiers to the Grimes’ home to attack him and his wife for reasons unknown to many. Their home was burnt, and properties were destroyed. Mr. Grimes, along with his sister, Dr. Mary Antoinette Sherman, were imprisoned. Fortunately his wife was able to escape. It was a heartrending experience for a man and his wife who had devoted their lives to building a good name in the comity of nations for their country; and for their sister who had spent a lifetime educating her people.

Mrs. Grimes migrated to the United States and settled in New Jersey. Her husband later joined her after he and his sister were released from prison.  The Grimeses had plans to move back to Liberia in 1989 but were denied entrance because of the brutal civil war that was going on in the country at that time. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Grimes was asked if she had plans of relocating back to Liberia and taking her husband’s body home. Unfortunately her answer was no. She explained that she and her family had nothing left in Liberia. According to the widow, her family home was destroyed in 1985, and their farm was also taken away from them.

Just like her husband, Mrs. Grimes died naturally and peacefully in New Jersey, on December 21, 2015. She was in her early 80s.