Both Black and Catholic (?)

Here’s my most recent post on Religion in American History, where I offer some musings around my lecture at the Institute of Black Catholic Studies (Xavier University of Louisiana) coming up on Monday, November 10th.

My post today falls in the “shameless plug” category.  I am due to lecture at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana on Monday, November 10th.  The title of my talk is “Black Catholics from the Great Migrations to Black Power,” something I have thought quite a bit about for the past few years.  Nevertheless (or, perhaps precisely for this reason), I’ve been struggling to capture the full significance of this story in just 45 minutes.  So my post today offers some of the musings that have been running on repeat in the back of my mind as I prepare to share this story.

What has it meant to be both Black and Catholic in the United States?  The tension between – or, better yet, the inseparability of racial and religious identities in the U.S. was felt acutely by Black Catholics in the middle years of the twentieth century.  The period I have referenced in shorthand as “the Great Migrations to Black Power,” roughly 1940 through 1970, was an era of unprecedented growth and transformation among Black Catholics across the United States – especially in the urban industrial centers in the North and West.  The Black Catholic population grew by 208% nationwide in these three decades and in the Midwest growth surpassed 400%.  Chicago is perhaps the best example of this, rising from a few hundred people meeting in a single church at the turn of the twentieth century into a population of 80,000 people – the Archdiocese of Chicago boasted more Black Catholics than either New Orleans or Washington, D.C. by 1970, an astounding feat when one considers the long history of Black Catholic Maryland and Louisiana!

Even more remarkable than mere numbers was the dramatic – and often traumatic – transformation of Black Catholic practice and identity in this very same period.  What did it mean to be both Black and Catholic?   Continue reading