Tag Archives: slavery

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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Help human trafficking victims, ask Congress to reauthorize protection act

July 28, 2011

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In Damascus, Syria, two young Iraqi sisters live in a women’s shelter run by Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The girls had been living as vulnerable refugees in the community, when one day a woman attempted to traffic them. They will remain protected in the shelter until their cases for refugee status are decided by the United Nations. But if funding for the shelter does not continue, these girls may well be left to fend for themselves, vulnerable again to trafficking in an even more dangerous Damascus.

Annually, an estimated 700,000 to 2 million people — primarily women and children — are trafficked across borders into extreme forms of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 statement on migration, entitled “Migrations: A Sign of the Times,” the pope deplored the “trafficking of human beings — especially women — which flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited.”

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was promulgated by Congress in 2000 to establish the United States’ efforts and leadership in combating the multi-billion-dollar industry. The Act directs the U.S. State Department’s efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, prosecute those who profit from it, and protect victims.

The law established the T visa, which allows trafficking victims to become temporary U.S. residents. Training is another component of the law, which funds efforts to span the wide expanse of workers who deal with victims — law enforcement officers, federal prosecutors, social service providers, trafficking advocates — to exchange ideas and build networks.

Since 2000, Catholic Relief Services has established more than 100 programs in more than 35 countries to prevent trafficking and protect victims. The shelter in Damascus is one of them.

This year, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act expires. Congress must therefore act to reauthorize it.

As chair of the Education and Work Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) can help this bill pass quickly before the Act expires on Sept. 30. Rep. Kline should move to allow the House Foreign Affairs Committee to pass the bill with strong provisions for global and domestic leadership to combat trafficking.

If the bill does not pass, U.S. pressure on countries across the globe to combat modern-day slavery will suffer. In this economic environment, more vulnerable and marginalized people like the young Iraqi sisters in Damascus may fall victim to those who would exploit them. And, programs to facilitate rehabilitation will close.

Catholic Relief Services is urging those concerned about human trafficking victims to call Rep. Kline at (202) 225-2271 and ask him to allow the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 to move quickly through Congress.

For more information about human trafficking, see the article “Escape from slavery: Minnesota girl’s plight highlights problem of human trafficking,” which ran in The Catholic Spirit on Dec. 14, 2010.

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Illustrated book for young readers shows how Black America has lived the Beatitudes

May 6, 2010

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beatitudes cover

“The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights,”

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

What a great tool to counter the cultural stereotyping and racism that is so much a part of American society.

Author Weatherford’s pen is poetic as she walks readers through the history of the Black experience from the ships that carried spiritual-singing slaves through centuries of segregation and bigotry to the hard-fought years of the Civil Rights movement and even up to the glory of the election of the first African-American U.S. President.

The background music for the journey is the Beatitudes, that striking teaching of Jesus that is captured for us in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 5: 3-12).

As your read about the heroes and heroines of Black Americans  and see their images in Ladwig’s colorful paintings, you can’t help but recall the phrase “blessed are” for each and every one. Some are their names are well-known to adults —  Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. — but may be new to the young readers for whom this Eerdmans title is intended. Other names will be new to adults as well.

Thankfully, a brief biographical paragraph of each individual is included in the back of the book. These short sketches will be educational for young and old alike.

This is a great book to buy for the young readers in your life. Cheat, though. Read it yourself before wrapping it as a gift. Better yet, have that young reader read it aloud to you. You’ll both be blessed. — bz

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Power of the presidency comes alive in history of Andrew Jackson

February 7, 2009

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“American Lion,”
by Jon Meacham

As a new American president takes the stage, reading a history of an American president some 180 years prior is an enlightening joy.
Watching Barack Obama utilize his mandate from the 2008 election has been the perfect backdrop for going back in time to learn how — in 1828 and during the eight years of two terms Andrew Jackson showed many U.S. presidents how the power of the presidency might be used to lead.
A youth during the War of Independence, a hero of the War of 1812 and a renown Indian fighter, the man those close to him called “the General” won the popular vote as well as the electoral vote in two elections, and he never let it be forgotten by those who disagreed with his reasoning.
Meacham paints a thorough portrait of Old Hickory — warts and all — yet his loving brush strokes are obvious. Readers, too, will find much to admire in Andrew Jackson, yet much for which to find fault with him as well, and that’s to the historian Meacham’s credit: He lets Jackson be human, not all good, not all bad, but multi-dimensional.

One way: Jackson’s
Jackson was the break-through candidate, the one who saw the president as the representative of the people against entrenched interests. He took that mandate from his election as a voucher giving him the right to make changes — and that he did.
Coming from his Tennessee home (the Hermitage) to a Washington that was just decades old but already seemingly set in its ways — particularly with regard to who had a “right” to government jobs — Jackson made it plain that he do things differently — and his way. Hundreds of long-time government staff found they were replaced by Jackson appointees, for one thing. That was new.
When it came to Congress, Jackson initiated greater use of the veto, enhancing presidential power: In 40 years no more than four or five Acts of Congress had been vetoed by six presidents; Jackson vetoed four in three days.

A man of firsts
Jackson was the first Democrat, and might be credited — for good or ill — as the one who started party-line voting, and a president who offered favors for votes in Congress.
During the election year of 1832, when he sought a second term, Jackson broke with tradition and initiated the first presidential campaign tour. Not willing to let others do his bidding, Jackson made the barbecue circuit, shaking hands and being seen as he made his way from his home in Tennessee to Washington and elsewhere. In New York City, one observer likened a Jackson torchlight parade to Catholic processions.
The campaign of 1832 may be where image first played a major role in how Americans voted. Jackson’s men repeated the message that “a vote for Jackson was a vote for the people while a vote for (Henry) Clay was a vote for the privileged,” Meacham noted.
Jackson understood the power of his personality and how the power of personality gave a president power.

Pro-slavery, anti-Indian
Along the way, though, President Andrew Jackson made what today society would say were serious errors — even immoral ones.
For one thing, Jackson was a slave owner and upheld the practice of slavery. He moved to curb the forces of abolition, even suppressing with presidential orders the right of printed material to be delivered from abolitionist writers.
He also saw Native Americans as just in the way of the progress of white U.S. citizens, and his policies and practices led to cruel resettlement of Indian tribes. The “Trail of Tears” — the forced removal of the Cherokee to the west — was a shameful result of Jackson’s Indian policy though it took place a year after he left office. An estimated 4,000 of the 16,000 Cherokees forced out of Georgia died along the way due to brutal treatment by the U.S. military.
Reading of his life now, though, is a good reminder, Meacham points out, “that evil can appear perfectly normal to even the best men and women of a given time.”
Ironically, despite his own participation in slavery, Jackson is also credited with preventing the southern states from seceding from the Union. When South Carolina felt compelled to reject Acts of Congress, Jackson stamped down and denied that any state had the right to do that.
When the tariff on southern cotton proved to be a divisive issue that could lead to succession, Jackson worked out a compromise that cooled tempers.

He is still with us
For my taste, too much of Meacham’s work pays attention to the pettiness of Washington society and how it impacted Jackson’s cabinet and household.
But Meacham shines in showing how Jackson has influenced and continues to influence the presidents of the United States:
– Running at the head of a national party;
– Fighting for a mandate from the people to govern in a particular way on particular issues;
– Depending on a circle of insiders and advisers;
– Mastering the media of the age to transmit a consistent message at a constant pace;
– Using the veto as a political weapon.
“He gave his most imaginative successors the means to do things they thought right,” Meacham noted, citing examples of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman as evidence.

A man of prayer
Readers interested in Jackson’s spirituality will find consistent references in “American Lion” that show the seventh president to have been a man of prayer.
Jackson’s rhetoric regularly includes mention of the Almighty, he is seen in prayer and frequently a nearby church, though he didn’t join a particular denomination — Baptist — until after he left office. His reasoning? He didn’t want it to look like he was joining just to improve his image.
One wonderful anecdote that captures a whiff of Jackson’s spirituality and a large bite of his sense of power is told upon his death near the end of the 360 pages of prose in this Random House book. Meacham writes:
“In Nashville,
according to legend, a visitor to the Hermitage asked a slave on the place whether he thought Jackson had gone to heaven. ‘If the General wants to go,’ the slave replied, ‘who’s going to stop him?'”
— bz
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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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