Tag Archives: Black History Month

Why a parish just for black Catholics?

February 1, 2012

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St. Peter Claver Church has served black Catholics in Minnesota’s state capital for nearly 125 years, but the archbishop who established the parish wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

Archbishop John Ireland

Archbishop John Ireland, the legendary leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, was ahead of the curve when it came to racial equality, preaching that blacks were just as much children of God as were whites.

He acted on what he preached as well.

As St. Paul’s first archbishop (1884 to 1918), he was the first American bishop to allow a black man to study at the diocesan seminary — the St. Paul Seminary — and be ordained a diocesan priest in the United States. Father Stephen Theobald was ordained in 1910 and served at the Cathedral of St. Paul before being named pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul.

Archbishop Ireland’s vision was that there should be no “race problem,” that the United States should be an integrated society. Daniel Rudd, the editor of a widely read black Catholic newspaper of the time, the American Catholic Tribune (circulation 10,000), saw in the archbishop an ally in his own vision that the Catholic Church was the best hope for racial justice and equality for black people in America.

Rudd was a sought-after lecturer, and in 1890, through a series of benefit speeches, he raised funds to build the first permanent church for St. Paul’s St. Peter Claver Parish. Archbishop Ireland had founded St. Peter Claver as a parish for “Colored Catholics” two years earlier and named it after the Spanish Jesuit who ministered to slaves in New Spain. But it wasn’t until 1892 that St. Peter Claver Church was built.

Historian Gary B. Agee, writing in the just-released biography of Rudd, said the black Catholic newspaperman and the archbishop both heard the demand from black Catholics for their own parishes, just as other ethnic groups had theirs, but they had trouble with that line of thinking.

Here’s an excerpt from “A Cry of Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism and Activism, 1854-1933” (University of Arkansas Press):

“Rudd’s position on the existence of separate black parishes seems to have paralleled that of Archbishop Ireland. For example, when Ireland dedicated a new black parish in the city of St. Paul in 1892, the prelate expressed some ambivalence over the matter. He stated the establishment of a separate church for African American Catholics was only a temporary measure designed to benefit blacks. Further, Ireland desired all races to worship together. He also emphasized the fact that blacks were free to attend any of the city’s parishes.”

In his newspaper, Daniel Rudd echoed much the same sentiment, again excerpting from Agee’s book:

“If every so-called Colored Catholic church in the world was done away with instantly the Colored Catholics would be at home in any other Catholic church beneath the Sun.”

Obviously, given the racial history of our country and our church, both Archbishop Ireland and Daniel Rudd were ahead of their time in their vision.

 

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Gutsy black Catholic journalist found hero for racial justice in Minnesota bishop

January 30, 2012

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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.

 

 

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Quilts, yes, but so much more

January 10, 2012

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A poet and an illustrator patch together history, art and spirituality in boisterous words and blooming color

What it was like to be a Black slave in the American South — the back-breaking work, the pain, the evil masters, the broken hearts and yet the joy, the inner satisfaction, the compassionate masters, the deep faith — all of it comes at readers full bore in “I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery.”

Cynthia Grady has provided the poems — themselves named for quilts and structured like the patchwork craft of the seamstress — and illustrator Michele Wood uses quilt patterns to the max to dress the poet’s stories in form and color that simply can’t be ignored.

A book just of the poetry itself would be worthy. Grady’s storytelling is teacher-like, thought-provoking as all good poetry is, and musical in the dialect of the slaves themselves.

Phrases like “the devil hisself,” “fetch a good price” and “make your skin goose up” grab your senses — and your sensitivity to what Black people went through during those pre-Emancipation Proclamation decades.

Just like a quilt, each poem incorporates three layers — intentionally, Grady explained — with spiritual, musical and sewing references. Even the shape of each poem — 10 lines of 10 syllables — mirrors the squares of quilt blocks.

Each poem is accompanied not only by one of Wood’s creative illustrations but by a paragraph or two or three of historical background that makes each two-page spread even more informative.

Looking for something different yet spiritual and substantial for Black History Month in February? This Eerdmans Book for Young Readers would fill the bill nicely. Order here from the publisher or check at your local bookstore.

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We all need to know this story of going from slavery to freedom

February 8, 2008

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“I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: The Lost Tale of The Underground Railroad”
by Karolyn Smardz Frost

What would it have been like to be a slave?

And what kind of courage did a slave have to have to risk escaping to freedom?

Archeologist and historian Karolyn Smardz Frost dug up some facts and artifacts about a Black couple named Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, and she puts together the scraps of her finds and tedious research to answer those questions and more in “I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land.”
This is a great read, one with dramatic turns that keep you turning pages.

And it’s an educational read as well.

If your American History classes brushed by the era of the Underground Railroad in a hurry to concentrated on the U.S. Civil War, “Glory Land” will fill in the missing gap.
It’s a part of history every North American should know.

And I say North America because, for the people Frost traces back to their one-time slave state of Kentucky, “Glory Land” is Canada.

More we were never taught
That was news to me. I thought the end of the Underground Railroad was just somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In fact, a line of the series of safe houses and sanctuaries for fugitive slaves ran up into Detroit and across the Detroit River to what was then Upper Canada, now Ontario.

How laws in the United States worked against slaves who tried to escape their bondage was news to me, too.

Of course in school we learned about the Dred Scott Decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protected the rights of slave owners. But legalisms that cooperated with the slave faction abounded. When the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 opened up the Midwest for settlement, its article six provided that runaway slaves be returned to their owners.

As early as 1793 there was even a federal law, the Fugitive Slave Law, that required slaves to be returned to their masters.

Canada deserves some props
The Canadians don’t come off pure as the driven snow with regard to racial bias, but their protection of the right of freedom for any British subject saved the day for the Thornton and Lucie Blackburn and thousands of other former slaves who fled the cruelty and inhumanity of the slave system.

Theirs is a story all should know.

And the refresher course on what slave owners did – how they treated other human beings – is a lesson Americans should never forget. – bz

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