19th century newspaperman considered Catholicism key to racial justice and saw an advocate in the Archbishop of St. Paul
Daniel Rudd’s is a name you’ve likely never heard, but the one-time slave was a bold Catholic ahead of his time, and one who found a champion in none other than St. Paul’s Archbishop John Ireland.
Back in 1887, Rudd founded a black Catholic newspaper, the American Catholic Tribune, and from its pages he preached the unique message that the Catholic Church would play an essential role in the breaking down of the color line in the United States and in gaining racial equality for black people.
Historian Gary B. Agee’s recently released biography, “A Cry for Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism and Activism, 1854-1933” (University of Arkansas Press, 2012) captures that distinctive philosophy.
As a child Rudd was owned by a Catholic master and formed in faith along side white children in his parish in Bardstown, Ky. He became a free man after the Emancipation Proclamation, founded his newspaper in Cincinnati, and was one of the most well-known black Catholics of the late 19th century as he labored for justice and equality for people of color.
Born a century later, he might have been a prophet, too. He wrote this in 1888:
“We think we will live long enough to see a black man president of this Republic.”
Journalist and evangelizer
Rudd believed in – and took pride in – the Catholic theology that taught “the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of all people.” That belief convinced Rudd that the Catholic Church was the best hope for blacks to have the same rights as whites.
Agee noted, “In July 1890, Rudd told a reporter of the Cincinnati Times-Star, ‘I have always been a Catholic and, feeling that I knew the teachings of the Catholic Church, I thought there could be no greater factor in solving the race problem than that matchless institution….’”
Rudd’s newspaper had a circulation of 10,000 at its high point, and he used its pages not just to cry out for racial justice but to evangelize his fellow blacks. He wrote that he had started the newspaper to “give the great Catholic Church a hearing and show that it is worthy of at least a fair consideration at the hands of our race, being as it is the only place on this continent where rich and poor, white and black, must drop prejudices at the threshold and go hand in hand to the altar.”
White readers both bought subscriptions and donated money to support the American Catholic Tribune. Agee states that Rudd used his newspaper “both to instruct and encourage African American Catholics as well as to proclaim Catholicism’s merits to prospective black converts. In this manner he served his black readers even as he attempted to shape his white readership’s perception of blacks.”
Hero in an archbishop
Rudd was a gutsy editor who addressed the issue of women’s rights, demanded the blacks be hired when they can do a job just as well as whites, called for granting home rule for Ireland, and took to task a Catholic newspaper editor who claimed that whites were destined to rule America’s inferior black race.
Rudd sued a delicatessen for refusing to serve him (and won a $100 judgment). He founded the Colored Catholic Congress movement to prod black Catholics to take up collective action to demand racial equality, and he chided the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. to open its Catholic schools to blacks.
Not all Catholics of Rudd’s time bought the idea of the equality of the races. Not all Catholic bishops agreed with him either.
One who did, however, was Archbishop Ireland, who wasn’t shy about his feelings on the matter. The archbishop caused an uproar when in 1890 he preached on the subject to a packed house at St. Augustine Church in Washington, D.C., with members of Congress and other highly place politicians present.
St. Paul’s archbishop said that racial prejudice is a crime that Catholics must lift themselves above. He said whites need “lessons in charity, benevolence, justice and religion” in order to address “the race problem.”
Agee’s work goes into great detail about ArchbishopIreland’s views on racial prejudice, and notes that Rudd made sure the archbishop’s words were spread far and wide, quoting him in the columns he wrote for his own newspaper, urging other black publications to reprint the archbishop’s talk and lecturing on the topic around the United States.
Businessman, journalist, evangelist, and advocate for justice, his biography tells of the trials, the accomplishments, and the disappointments of a black Catholic who more American Catholics – black and white – should learn about.