African American Catholics in the United States (History of)

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Author: C. DAVIS
Date: 2003
New Catholic Encyclopedia
From: New Catholic Encyclopedia(Vol. 1. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 9
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 154

AFRICAN AMERICAN CATHOLICS IN THE UNITED STATES (HISTORY OF)

Catholics first arrived in what is now the United States in the middle of the sixteenth century. The settlement, named in honor of St. Augustine, was made in what is now the northern part of Florida by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. These first settlers were Spanish speaking, all were Catholics, and some were white and others black. In fact, on the first page of the baptismal register appear the names of infants who are described as black or mulattoes. The history of African American Catholics has its beginning with the history of the Catholic Church in America.

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Colonial period in Florida. The Spanish government considered the Florida settlement as an outpost against attacks by the British and the French to guard its Caribbean possessions in Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico. The black settlers who settled in Florida in the second half of the sixteenth century were mainly from Spain. Many were free; others were slaves. From the beginning the slaves in the Florida territory enjoyed certain rights and privileges coming from the slave codes based on Roman Law drawn up by Alfonso the Wise (1221–1284) known as the Siete Partidas. By 1683 free blacks had formed a militia in St. Augustine. A decade later, the crown promised freedom to runaway slaves from the English colonies who reached the Spanish settlement and converted to the Catholic faith. In 1738 the Spanish governor built the first all-black town in the future United States. Known as the Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, this palenque, that is a settlement of freed persons, had Francisco Menéndez as its designated black leader. A courageous soldier and a daring leader, he led both blacks and the Yamassee Indians against the English settlements in Georgia. In 1763 the Spanish in Florida, both whites and blacks, free and slave, were forced to withdraw to Cuba, leaving Florida to the British. This was the result of the Spanish defeat in the Seven Years War. In 1784 the Spanish returned, but the town of Fort Mose was not restored. The baptismal, marriage, and death registers of blacks reveal a society that was bi-racial, Catholic, and Latin. The registers reveal that the soldiers garrisoned in St. Augustine were blacks and mulattoes from Cuba with one or the other coming from West Africa. The Spanish laws governing slavery were more tolerant and emancipation much easier to win than in the British and American societies. In 1793 there were 2,000 whites and 1,600 blacks of whom 1,500 were slaves. In 1814 there were 1,300 whites and 1,770 blacks of whom 1,600 were slaves. Over half of the population was black.

Colonial period in the Southwest and the Louisiana Territory. In 1781 the city of Los Angeles was settled with families from two villages in northern Mexico. Of the eleven families that settled in Los Angeles, only two persons were white and two were blacks, seven were Native Americans, four were mestizos, and seven were mulattoes. Not only in Los Angeles but in much of the Southwest a large proportion, especially soldiers, were of mixed race.

The French began the settlement of the Gulf Coast at the end of the seventeenth century. African slaves were introduced into the colony in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. On the eve of the Civil War there were 330,000 slaves; 18,000 free blacks, and 360,000 whites. The Code Noir was the slave code drawn up by the authority of Colbert in the France of Louis XIV to control the slave population in the French colonies. The code made slaveholders responsible for the baptism and the religious instruction of their slaves, slaves were to have opportunity to attend church and were to be free from labor on Sundays and feasts, neither marriage nor concubinage was permitted between whites and blacks, and children under fourteen could not be sold away from their parents. Other provisions in the code were extremely harsh and even inhuman. Despite the Code Noir, concubinage between white men and black women was a salient feature of Louisiana society. French slaveholders very often freed their slave children, thereby creating a distinct social class known as the "free people of color."

The free people of color or Afro-Creoles were to be found in the cities of the Gulf Coast and in Florida. This social and ethnic class created a distinct Afro-French culture that was Catholic, African, and Latin in religion, language, and art. From this social class came entrepreneurs, skilled craftsmen, business women and men, landowners, and philanthropists. Specific Afro-Creole settlements like Mon Luis Island south of Mobile, Chastang in southern Alabama, and Isle Brevelle outside of Natchitoches in northern Louisiana presented a distinctive Afro-Creole Catholic folk culture.

Many free people of color, like many blacks in other parts of the country, owned slaves. This would include people who were themselves former slaves. The reasons were not always simple. Many free blacks had funds sufficient to purchase a slave, often one's own children, or relatives, or one's spouse. Having funds to purchase a slave did not mean having sufficient funds to post a bond often demanded by local governments to insure that the former slave would not become a public charge. In some places, the freed slave was forced to leave the state or risk being enslaved again. In the years leading up to the Civil War, it became increasingly difficult to free a slave. Finally, there were free blacks who bought and sold slaves for the same reasons that many whites owned slaves. They bought and sold slaves for profit and one's own service.

French settlements in the Midwest, like St Louis, Vincennes, Cahokia, Kaskasia, and Ste.-Genevieve, were also settlements of black Catholics, slave and free. One of the best-known black Catholic leaders of the antebellum period was Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable. A trapper, a trader, a wealthy merchant, married to a member of the Potawatomi tribe, he was a French-speaking black man possibly of Haitian origin. Considered to be one of the first settlers of Chicago, he was buried in 1818 in a Catholic cemetery in St. Charles, Missouri.

Slavery and the Catholic Church. Four years before he became the bishop of Baltimore in 1889, JohnPage 156  |  Top of Article CARROLL in a letter to the Holy See described the situation of Catholics in the newly established United States. He noted that there were 3,000 African slaves in Maryland in a population of 15,000 Catholics. They were a concern for him. The Jesuits had arrived in Maryland in the seventeenth century. With land grants received from Lord Baltimore, they relied upon slave labor to exploit the land and bring in the income needed for their pastoral work. By the early nineteenth century, the ownership of many slaves who were elderly or children was no longer profitable. In 1837, the Jesuits had sold almost 300 slaves to slave brokers in the South. Assurances were given that families would be kept together and the slaves would be sold to Catholic slaveowners. Nevertheless, some families were divided and more seriously, many were sold to non-Catholics, which meant that they would not be able to practice the Catholic faith. In Maryland, this action scandalized even the slaveholding Catholic laity.

The Catholic Church in the United States was implicated in slavery on many levels. The slaveholding class included members of the clergy and religious orders as well as laypersons. Bishops like John Carroll (1735–1815), Louis William DUBOURG (1766–1833) of Louisiana, Benedict FLAGET (1763–1850) of Louisville, Michael PORTIER (1795–1859) of Mobile owned slaves. The VINCENTIANS in Missouri and the Sulpicians in Maryland and Kentucky were served by slaves in their seminaries. The Carmelite nuns in Maryland; the Ursulines in New Orleans; the Dominican sisters, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, and the Sisters of Loretto in Kentucky were all slave owners. Most of the religious communities in the South were slaveowners. It can be said that in the period before the Civil War, the Catholic Church in the South was built and maintained by the labor of black Catholic slaves.

Abolitionism. In the United States, the opposition to slavery and the call for its abolition was the work of Protestant religious leaders, most of whom were Quakers, Presbyterians, and Methodists. Many Protestant churches were split in half over the slavery issue. The opponents to slavery were, for the most part, motivated by deep religious convictions regarding the morality of slavery. These same religious leaders were often harsh critics of the Catholic Church, which they saw as a narrow-minded religious faith, foreign to an American mentality. Catholics in the United States reciprocated with suspicion of the abolitionists, whom they saw as fanatics. Many Catholics, especially members of the hierarchy, considered slavery to be a political issue.

In 1839, Pope Gregory XVI wrote an apostolic letter condemning the slave trade and by implication the institution of slavery itself. John ENGLAND (1786–1842), bishop of Charleston, wrote a series of letters in his diocesan newspaper (the first of its kind in the United States) in which he sought to prove that the pope was not an abolitionist as some had charged and had no intention of condemning the domestic slavery that existed in the United States. He sought to prove that the Church had never condemned slavery. Finally, acknowledging that he personally did not approve of slavery, he added that he saw no way of bringing it to an end.

On the eve of the Civil War, the first bishop of Natchitoches in Louisiana, Auguste Martin (1803–1875) wrote a pastoral letter in French, defending slavery as a blessing in disguise whereby God in his providence had brought the "children of the race of Canaan" to these shores to receive the blessings of faith and grace. The authorities in Rome were ready to condemn the bishop's theological conclusions when the war ended and the issue was no longer relevant. Only two American bishops publicly called for an end to slavery, John Baptist PURCELL (1800–1883), archbishop of Cincinnati, who called for an end to slavery in 1862, and Josue Moody Young (1808–1866), bishop of Erie. It would take leaders in Europe, like the champion of Irish freedom, Daniel O'Connell (1775–1847), and Félix-Antoine-Philibert DUPANLOUP (1802–1878), bishop of Orléans in France, to speak out against the inhumanity of slavery in the context of Catholic teaching.

Although the 54th Massachusetts Regiment is seen as the first regular all black Union regiment in the Civil War, the first black troops to fight and die in the Civil War were the Louisiana Native Guards. Organized by free men of color as a regiment in the Confederate forces in Louisiana, many of the same Native Guards offered themselves to the Union General Benjamin Butler after New Orleans was captured by the Union Army in April of 1862. They were mustered into the Union Army as the Louisiana Native Guards, forming three regiments. Most of them were French-speaking blacks, and most were Catholics.

The great hero of the African American community in New Orleans was André Cailloux., captain in the First Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards. A former slave, he was a daring, fearless, natural-born leader, whose finest hour was the moment when he led his men up the bluff at Port Hudson. His regiment was to lead the attack. There André Cailloux was the first of the black soldiers to die on May 27, 1863. The bodies of the black soldiers were left unburied on the battle ground for almost a month. The black soldiers were scorned and they and their families were openly insulted by the general New Orleans populace. The white clergy of New Orleans, like the white population, were in opposition to thePage 157  |  Top of Article Union forces occupying the city. Consequently, the only priest who would minister to the black soldiers and their families was Claude Pascal Maistre (1820–1875). Maistre, who had been born in the département of Aube in the northwest of France, regularly condemned slavery in his sermons, despite the summons of his archbishop to desist. He gave aid and comfort to the black soldiers and full support to the black community as the free people of color rallied to the Union cause. Despite his suspension by the archbishop of New Orleans, Jean-Marie Odin (1800–1870), Maistre continued his ministry to the black community and in that capacity he preached at the public military funeral of André Cailloux.

Second Plenary Council of Baltimore. The American bishops came together for the second Plenary Council in Baltimore in October of 1866. Martin J. Spalding (1810–1872), archbishop of Baltimore, had expressed his concern for ministry to the freed slaves. He spoke of the "golden opportunity for a harvest of souls." In planning for this council with the approval of Rome, he suggested to the members of the Curia that there should be a discussion on the possibility of a prefect apostolic or some other ecclesiastical official, preferably with the status of a bishop, who might coordinate on a national basis the pastoral work for African Americans. The Curia considered this a capital idea. It was included in the agenda. The bishops did not take up the subject until the very end of the allotted time for discussion. In fact, the meeting was held in an extraordinary session on October 22. The minutes of the extraordinary session were never translated into English or published in Latin. The bishops were most un-happy with such a proposal because they felt that it would diminish their authority. The proposal was met with sarcasm, anger, ridicule, and also some bitterness was expressed toward the ex-slaves themselves. The tenor of the discussion was such that Spalding never revealed during the meeting that the idea was originally his own. Ultimately, the assembled bishops made no move to adopt the proposal. It was decided to leave the evangelization of the African American community in the hands of the individual bishops who had African Americans in their respective dioceses. The bishops expressed the hope that missionaries might come from Europe to evangelize the black population.

In 1871, Spalding welcomed the MILL HILL FATHERS, a missionary society from England, into his archdiocese. In 1892, the American branch of Mill Hill separated from the English headquarters and became the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Dedicated exclusively to the apostolate among blacks, they had their headquarters in Baltimore but with parishes and missions throughout the South. Later in 1906 the Society of the Divine Word, a German missionary congregation, came to the United States and also began work in the African American Apostolate. A community of sisters was founded by St. Katherine DREXEL (1858–1955), a Philadelphia-born heiress, who used her immense fortune to establish a religious community known as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891. St. Katherine Drexel opened schools and began missions for both Native Americans and African Americans.

Religious congregations of black women. The African American Catholic community also played an active role in its own evangelization. Two religious orders of women were successfully established in the darkest days of slavery. As early as 1824 a community of black religious women was established in Kentucky. Unfortunately, the effort was unsuccessful.

The second attempt was made possible by the arrival of black refugees from the revolutionary turmoil of Haiti (then referred to as St. Domingue) into Baltimore. They worshipped together in the lower chapel of St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore. A Sulpician priest, Jacques Joubert de la Muraille, was assigned to minister among them. After he noted that a group of young black women, three of whom were originally from Haiti, had begun teaching the young children in the community, Joubert inquired about the possibility of their forming a sisterhood and discovered that this was their fondest desire. With Elizabeth Lange (d.1882) as their leader, the women became a religious community in 1829. Two years later in 1831, they received papal approval. Joubert gave them the name of OBLATE SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE. From the beginning, the education of black children was their ministry. At the same time an orphanage was created. The community attracted vocations. Some who were ex-slaves came to the community with their manumission papers in their hands. Nevertheless, the sisters often faced insults and contempt from the wider community. As time went on, the convent played a central role in the religious life of black Catholic community of Baltimore.

One of the original group who founded the Oblates was Therese Duchemin Maxis, who left the Oblates with another sister and went to Monroe, Michigan, where with the assistance of a Belgian Redemptorist priest, she founded the Sisters, Servants of the IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY. Because of a misunderstanding about roles, Therese Maxis was forced to leave the community by the bishop of Detroit, Peter Paul Lefevere (1804–1869); she eventually found refuge with the Grey Nuns in Canada. Toward the end of her life, in 1885, she was allowed to return to a convent of the I. H. M. Sisters in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she died in 1892.

In New Orleans, a young woman of color, Henriette Delille (1812–1862), a descendant of one of the first settlersPage 158  |  Top of Article in New Orleans and his slave, began to live a life of devotion and service with two other women of color, Juliette Gaudin (1808–1887), originally from Haiti, and Josephine Charles (1812–1885). Under the leadership of Henriette, the three women organized catechism classes for young girls of color and for slaves. Classes were also given to the young girls. The three women acted as sponsors for the baptism of slaves and as witnesses for their marriages. They nursed the sick, especially the poor and the derelict among the abandoned slaves. The community grew and during the 1840s the community evolved from the status of pious women to sisters living a consecrated life. They would become known as the Sisters of the HOLY FAMILY. Racial feelings prevented them from wearing the religious habit on the streets of New Orleans until 1872, ten years after the death of Henriette Delille.

Both the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of the Holy Family had to fight for recognition. For many the concept of black nuns was difficult to accept. But their very existence is a testimony to the deep religious faith within the African American community. Today they continue their works of service and education primarily on behalf of the African American community. In 1916 another community of black sisters was founded by Ignatius Lissner, SMA and Mother Theodore Williams (1868–1931) in Savannah, Georgia. Originally founded to teach in the black Catholic schools of the Savannah diocese, the Handmaids of Mary found little opportunity for this task. Mother Theodore Williams relocated the community to New York at the invitation of Cardinal Hayes (1867–1938). There in Harlem, the third religious congregation of black sisters, now known as the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary (see FRANCISCAN SISTERS), continue their work of service to the poor and education for black children in the heart of the city.

African American priests. The first African American priests were three sons of an Irish slaveholder and his female slave. Michael Morris Healy, a former soldier from Ireland who fought with Great Britain during the War of 1812, built for himself a plantation in central Georgia. His slave, Mary Eliza, bore him ten children. Through his friendship with the future bishop of Boston, John Fitzpatrick (1812–1866), he was able to send his children for education in the North. Although his children were legally still slaves, his first four sons were among the first graduates of Holy Cross College in Massachusetts. Three of them studied abroad and became priests. James Augustine Healy (1830–1900) studied for the priesthood in Paris and was ordained in 1854 for the diocese of Boston. He would be named the second bishop of Portland, Maine in 1875 and the first black bishop in the United States. His younger brother, Alexander Sherwood Healy (1836–1874), was also ordained a priest for the diocese of Boston in Rome in 1858. Sherwood was a brilliant canonist, who was secretary of Bishop John Williams (1822–1907), and who served as his theologian at the First Vatican Council in 1870. He had a brilliant future before him, when he died in 1875. The second oldest brother, Patrick Francis Healy (1834–1910), became a Jesuit and was ordained a priest in Liège in 1864. Patrick Healy became the rector of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and was later named its first president. He was responsible for making the university a modern, updated seat of higher learning. Patrick Healy passed for white; Georgetown University would accept no black students until the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-twentieth century. Two of the Healy sisters became nuns in Canada. One of them, Eliza Healy (1846–1919), known as Sister St. Mary Magdalen, became a nun in the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal. She served as superior in several of the congregation's foundations. Another sister, Amanda Josephine (1845–1879), became a religious in a nursing community, the Religious Hospitallers at the Hospital of the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal. Although born in slavery, the Healy children had little contact with the African American population. Although both Bishop Healy and his brother, Alexander Sherwood Healy, were recognized as black, neither the bishop nor any of the other children truly identified with the black Catholic community.

On the other hand, Augustus Tolton (1854–1897), born a slave in Ralls County, Missouri, was clearly recognizable as an African American. Despite many setbacks, Tolton was finally admitted into the Urban College in Rome, where he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1886. Stationed first in Quincy, Illinois, he soon moved to Chicago as a result of the hostility of a neighboring priest. In Chicago he organized the parish of St. Monica, the first black parish in the city. Tolton's career was short but impressive. During the eleven years of his priesthood, he became for so many black Catholics a sign of hope and pride. He did not spare himself in responding to the needs of black Catholics both in Chicago and throughout the nation. He died suddenly from heat stroke in July of 1897.

The condition of the first black priests in the United States was an unenviable one. Unlike the tradition of the Church elsewhere, the American Catholic Church would not encourage a native clergy from the African American Catholic community. Between 1891 and 1910 only five black priests were ordained. From 1910 to 1930 only three priests were ordained. Thanks to the insistence of the Holy See, the number of black priests gradually increased. In 1934 four black priests of the Society of the Divine Word were ordained in St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. A first all-black seminaryPage 159  |  Top of Article had been established by the Divine Word Fathers first in 1920 in Greenwood, Mississippi, and was later moved to Bay St. Louis in 1923. Between the years 1934 and 1944, twenty-three black men were ordained to the priesthood.

Piety of black Catholics. In the Sulpician archives in Baltimore are found two notebook-size documents that reveal the piety of the black Catholic community. At the end of the eighteenth century and in the first part of the following, African American Catholics along with their fellow Catholics joined the different confraternities, the oldest of which was the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, begun by Bishop Carroll in 1796. Fifty-five pages of the notebook list the names of over 1,000 members from 1796 to 1858. Roughly a third of the names were blacks or mulattoes, men and women, slave and free. In two other confraternities, Our Lady of Help and of the Holy Rosary, both of which began in the early nineteenth century, the lists contained a representative number of members, who were designated as black or mulatto. The appearance of these names might serve as a barometer suggesting that the level of piety and devotion was as elevated among black Catholics as it was among whites.

In the same archives is found the Journal of the Commencement and of the Proceedings of the Society of Coloured people, a handwritten account of the weekly meetings of some 200 or more black men and women who met from 1843 to 1845 in the basement of Calvert Hall, attached to the Baltimore cathedral. The journal, kept by the white priest who acted as chaplain, gave detailed information regarding the prayers, the hymns, the spiritual conferences, and such practical affairs as the disbursement of funds to those in need and the maintenance of a lending library. The notebook affords one a bird'seye view of a gathering of very pious black Catholics who were doing more than the minimum in their religious practice.

The Society of the Holy Family was in the form of a mutual benefit society for black Catholics. Prior to the Civil War, there were many such societies among black Catholics. These self-help organizations, although prevalent among African American Protestants, have been little studied among black Catholics. In the Catholic Directory for Baltimore at least three other mutual benefit societies were mentioned, one of which was named the Tobias Society. Other examples of black Catholic mutual benefit societies were found in New Orleans.

From the pain and humiliation that was the experience of all American blacks, there emerged individual examples of holiness and piety. The Venerable Pierre TOUSSAINT (c. 1756–1853) was born a slave in Haiti. His owner, Jean Bérard, his owner's wife, his sister, and his aunt were brought to New York in 1787. Toussaint, like most urban slaves, learned a trade which would bring remuneration to his owner. He learned the trade of coiffeur or hairdresser, a lucrative trade for those who worked for the distinguished women of New York society. Jean Bérard returned to Haiti to wind up his affairs and unexpectedly died, leaving his wife practically penniless. Madame Bérard, without knowing it, was totally indebted to Toussaint, who supported her by his earnings. Eventually freed in 1807 by Madame Bérard on her deathbed, Toussaint bought the freedom of the woman he married and that of his sister. He was not poor, for he owned his own home and had adequate funds to support his family. He was childless but he reared his niece, who died young. Toussaint exercised a very practical charity. He disbursed funds to those in need, lent money to those who sought help, nursed the sick even in his own home, and offered violin lessons and shelter to young homeless black youths. His charity, his piety and cheerfulness, his deep attachment to his wife, his friendship to many of all stations and background revealed a man who was considered a saint by both blacks and whites, and even by Protestants at the time of his death in 1853. From that time his reputation for sanctity has not not ceased to grow and his cause has been introduced in Rome.

Black Catholic lay leadership. Unlike other ethnic groups within the American Catholic Church in the nineteenth century, black Catholics did not have the clerical leaders as had other ethnic groups in which clerical leaders wielded influence over many aspects of religious and civic life. Black Catholics are almost unique in that from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, the leadership role was carried out by lay persons. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was a man named Daniel Rudd, a journalist, a lecturer, a polemicist, and a devout Catholic who spoke out on behalf of the black Catholic community. He was born a slave in 1854 in Bardstown, Kentucky. One of twelve children, he was baptized and reared as a Catholic from infancy. After the Civil War, he joined his brother in Springfield, Ohio and finished there his secondary schooling. He began publishing a black newspaper in Springfield that in 1886 was transformed into The American Catholic Tribune, a black Catholic weekly newspaper, the first of its kind. Rudd moved to Cincinnati and then to Detroit, and finally the newspaper ceased publication after 1895. Rudd was convinced that the Catholic Church would become the champion for the rights and the improvement of the black race. He had a vision of a massive conversion of blacks to Catholicism and that this would raise up the entire race just as the Church had done so for other racial groups in the past.

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In 1889 there was held in Washington, D. C., the first black Catholic lay congress. There would be four more such congresses, the second one in Cincinnati in 1890, Philadelphia in 1892, Chicago in 1893, and Baltimore in 1894. Inspired by the Catholic lay congresses in Germany and Belgium, the congresses were Rudd's idea. He wished to bring together black Catholic lay leaders from all over the country. Rudd succeeded better than he knew. He was able to imbue the congress members with his own vision of the Catholic Church's role in lifting up the African American race. The Congress members went even further. They began to initiate several actions. They called for better urban living conditions, for education, especially vocational schools that would train black youth to be skilled laborers, and for an end to unions' blocking the entry of blacks to membership. They sent questionnaires to all of the United States bishops, inquiring about the presence of racial discrimination among the institutions of their respective dioceses. More than twothirds of the bishops responded. It was the intention of the committee of grievances set up by the fourth black lay Catholic congress to report the results to the Holy See.

The present state of research does not allow any clear-cut conclusions as to which communications regarding the status of black Catholics influenced the Roman authorities. Documentation in the apostolic delegation files clearly indicates that the curial officials did know of the complaints regarding the situation of black American Catholics. In 1904, Archbishop Falconio, OFM (1842–1917), apostolic delegate, received a letter from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Propaganda, concerning the "humiliating" way that black Catholics were treated by the clergy and the bishops. The letter went on to say that this treatment was to be "lessened and thus little by little entirely removed." The apostolic delegation files now in the Vatican Archives reveal that between 1912 and 1921, the Roman Curia in its missives to the apostolic delegate were not impressed by the efforts made on behalf of black Catholics by the bishops in the United States. The curial officials could not under-stand why there were not more black priests and how a pontifical university like the Catholic University of America could refuse to admit black Catholics.

Thomas Wyatt Turner and the Federated Colored Catholics. After 1894, the black Catholic lay congresses ceased to exist and would not be revived until the end of the twentieth century. Daniel Rudd died relatively unknown in the town of his birth in 1933. Many of the congress members, like Fredrick McGhee (1861–1912), of St. Paul, Minnesota, friend of both Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP Legal Fund and William Henry Smith (1833–1903) of Washington, D. C., assistant librarian of the House of Representatives, highest ranking black in the federal government, were both significant leaders in their respective communities. In their talks and speeches at the congresses and in the mutual addresses to their fellow Catholics delivered at the end of most of the congresses, these leaders expressed a deep sense of loyalty to their Church. They articulated the meaning of this faith to their situation as blacks. In fact, it could be said that a design for black Catholic theology emerged from these congresses at this time.

Thomas Wyatt Turner (1877–1978), college professor, activist, founder of the Federated Colored Catholics in 1924, was a man ahead of his time. Firmly attached to his Catholic faith, he did not hesitate to denounce racism and discrimination within the Catholic Church in the United States. He believed in direct action. He believed that blacks must be in charge of their own battles and that whites should cooperate under black leadership. Turner and his followers had three important goals: making Catholic education available to all black Catholics, opening the Catholic University of America to black students, and opening the seminaries for the education of more black priests. Turner's direct action methods brought him into conflict with two leading Jesuit priests who were also working on behalf of blacks and interracial justice. William Markoe, SJ (1892–1969) of St. Louis, pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish, led the charge against racial discrimination and injustice in St. Louis. In the beginning he sought to collaborate with Turner, but later he denounced Turner's program as establishing a "Jim Crow" organization. He saw "integration" and "interracial" as the watchwords for the movement. John LaFarge, SJ (1880–1963), intellectual leader and spokesman for inter-racial justice within the Catholic Church, gave support to Markoe's strategy to take over the Federated Colored Catholics. LaFarge saw the importance of providing a space for black Catholics and white Catholics to meet and discuss the issues of justice and Catholic social teaching so that through dialogue racial discrimination and injustice could be eliminated. From this sprang the Catholic Interracial Councils. Unwittingly, the work of the two priests helped destroy the organization built by Turner. Turner realized that in the issue of race relations, black empowerment, black leadership, and black direction would be the only way racist practices would be stopped.

Civil Rights Movement. Turner's methods and goals were taken up again by black Catholic leaders in the post–World War II movement for civil rights. Black Catholics were not on the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. By and large it was Protestant clergymen who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. On the local level many Catholics did play an important part, but further research is still necessary to reveal more specific examples.Page 161  |  Top of Article One of the most important civil rights attorneys was Alexander Pierre Tureaud (1899–1972), who successfully fought in the courts to bring about the desegregation of the schools in Louisiana. He was a close collaborator with Thurgood Marshall and his partners.

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968, black Catholic priests were called to meet as a caucus to respond to the deteriorating situation where some had called for the shooting of looters. This meant the killing of young people, many of whom would have been minorities. A scheduled meeting of the Catholic Clergy Conference on the Interracial Apostolate, an organization for white and black priests working in black parishes, was to begin its meeting in Detroit on April 16. A message was sent to all of the African American priests to come a day earlier in order to discuss the civil disturbances in the inner cities across the nation. The one day was lengthened to a night and another day. Some 60 or more black priests who had never met with each before began to look at the issues of what it meant to be a black priest in the time of black consciousness. It was a time for many to share their experiences of racial injustice and racial animosity in the seminary, religious congregations, or with their fellow white priests. For many it was a time to reveal hidden wounds and and talk about deeply felt pain. The newly found unity encouraged many of the black clergy to look at plans of action. It was agreed that a letter from the black clergy should be directed to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the United States. In it were a series of demands. Many of the demands were the same as blacks across the nation were addressing to white American authority figures. The letter began with the jolting words that the Catholic Church in the United States was a white racist institution.

April of 1968 was a turning point in the history of black Catholics in the United States. For the first time black priests as a body had addressed the issue of race and racism in the Catholic Church. Although agreement was not unanimous, it was clear that the issue of race was a hidden wound in the hearts of nearly all of the black Catholic clergy. It is for this reason that the caucus was transformed into a permanent organization of black priests, now known as the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus. It continues under this title as a fraternal organization of priests. It seeks to offer support and on-going education to its members. The National Black Clergy Caucus still seeks to be an advocate for issues dealing with race and to serve as a reminder of the Catholic Church's teaching on racial justice and related social issues. The action of the black priests resulted in the formation of the National Black Sisters' Conference later that same year. Later black seminarians organized the National Black Catholic Seminarians' Association. In 1970 the National Office of Black Catholics was established as a coordinating committee for dialogue with the American bishops. In 1988 this task would be taken over by the creation of the Secretariat of African American Catholics for the National Council of Catholic Bishops.

African American Catholics come of age. American Catholics have experienced the same forces of resistance and change that have characterized the modern world. With the creation of more black bishops beginning with the ordination of Harold Perry, SVD, as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans in 1966, the number of bishops has reached the total of thirteen bishops with one retired bishop and three deceased at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The number of African American Catholics is close to 2.5 million. The current influx of Africans into the black community has slowly increased this number. While the number of African American priests has dwindled to fewer than 300, the number of permanent deacons is more than twice that number. The number of African priests working in the African American community, along with an increase in African religious women, has almost doubled the number of black priests and sisters.

The new millenium and the black community. W. E. B. DuBois wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century that the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line. The same problem exists at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The American bishops addressed the issue of racism in a pastoral letter entitled Brothers and Sisters to Us in 1979. This letter charged that racism was a sin. The changing face of racism in the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century has lessened the impact of the document, although the problem has not ended. In 1984 the black bishops issued a pastoral letter What We Have Seen and Heard. The bishops spoke of the black Catholic community as having "come of age," and these same black Catholics were now called upon to evangelize themselves, their community, and the Church.

Race was not absent from the schismatic movement when George Stallings, a priest of the archdiocese of Washington, D. C., and Bruce Greening, a Salvatorian, severed ties with the Catholic Church in 1989. Because the cardinal archbishop of Washington would not authorize an independent congregation for the African American Rite, George Stallings broke with the Catholic Church and established the African American Catholic Congregation. Stallings was ordained a bishop by an Old Catholic archbishop.

Bruce Greening, who followed Stallings in his criticism of the Catholic Church, broke ranks with Archbishop Stallings when the initial break with Rome was made. Bruce Greening formed the Independent African AmericanPage 162  |  Top of Article Catholic Rite. His initial desire to remain within the bounds of the Catholic Church had not been possible. Much smaller in number than the Imani Temple of Archbishop Stallings, Greening was ordained a bishop by the patriarch of the African Orthodox Church.

The theological movement begun by black Protestant thinkers (e.g. James Cone) created a like movement among black Catholic theologians who met as a group called the Black Catholic Theological Symposium in 1978. This was the beginning of a permanent summer school institute at Xavier University in New Orleans, the first and only black Catholic university founded by St. Katherine Drexel in 1925. The Institute for Black Catholic Studies began in 1980 with courses in Black Approaches to Theology, Sacraments, and Scripture, Catechetics, History of Black Catholicism, and related subjects. Among the first faculty members was Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937–1990), a gifted teacher and a charismatic speaker who enthralled her listeners.

At the same time, a new organization began to reinstate the meetings of the Black Catholic Congress. The sixth Black Catholic Congress was held in Washington, D. C., in 1987, the seventh was held in New Orleans in 1992, and the eighth was held in Baltimore in 1997. These congresses have revealed the extraordinary liturgical and aesthetic gifts of African American Catholics. The black Catholic Hymnal, Lead Me Guide Me (published in 1987), is a reminder of the impact made by black Catholic musicians like Clarence Rivers, Rawn Harbor, Edward Bonnemere, Grayson Brown, and others on the Catholic Church in the United States and abroad.

Black Catholics were among the first who figuratively and literally helped lay the foundations of Catholicism in the territory that would become the United States. Their contribution to American Catholicism, so often overlooked and unsung, has been ongoing and substantial, both spiritually and tangibly. Without their presence, much of the movement, tempo, and vibrant colors of American Catholicism would have been muted and less dynamic. Without their presence, the note of catholicity would have been less evident, the story of faith would have been less apparent, and the mystery of the cross less powerful.

Bibliography: C. DAVIS, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York 1990). J. LANDERS, "Free and Slave," in The New History of Florida, ed. M. GANNON (Gainesville, Fla. 1996) 167–82. M. J. MACGREGOR, The Emergence of a Black Catholic Community: St. Augustine's in Washington (Washington, D. C. 1999). M. NICKELS, Black Catholic Protest and the Federated Colored Catholics, 1917–1933: Three Perspectives on Racial Justice (New York 1988). S. J. OCHS, A Black Patriot and a White Priest: André Cailloux and Claude Paschal Maistre in Civil War New Orleans (Baton Rouge, La. 2000); Desegregating the Altar: The Jose-phites and the Struggle for Black Priests, 1871–1960 (Baton Rouge, La. 1990). D. W. SOUTHERN, John LaFarge and the Limits of Catholic Interracialism, 1911–1963 (Baton Rouge, La. 1996).

[C. DAVIS]

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3407700194