For most of Mississippi’s history, there have been more Catholics than Baptists living in the city of Natchez, making it the center of Catholicism in a decidedly Protestant state.Given the generally small number of Catholics in the South, one doesn't hear much about the role of the Church in the civil rights struggle. In our own diocese, one hears the tales of Bishop Patrick Lynch, who defended slave ownership and was sent to the Vatican as a representative of the Confederacy by Jefferson Davis, and then Bishop Ernie Unterkoeffler, and his courageous role in the desegregation of SC schools. But that's really it. Or, rather, that's really the limit of my knowledge. So, yes, this looks like a great read!
It seems appropriate, then, for a Catholic church located in that city to have been the center of the African-American freedom movement. In its 100-plus-year history, Holy Family Catholic Church, the oldest African-American Catholic parish in Mississippi and one of the oldest in the country, has served as a “beacon to the community,” according to parishioner Ora Frazier.
Frazier, and over 40 other members of this Catholic community, tell the story of their parish and its role in the 1960s civil rights movement in the recently released Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South (Paulist Press). The book, written by Mississippi native Danny Duncan Collum, is based on oral interviews conducted in 1994 by Glenmary Father Tim Murphy.
This book grows out of a project initiated in the 1980s by the Glenmary Research Center and the Josephite Fathers and Brothers, whose priests have staffed the parish throughout its history. The book aims, through the stories and words of Holy Family parishioners, “to leave the reader with some sense of what it was like to be a double minority—black and Catholic—in the 20th-century South,” says Duncan Collum. “And to provide a clearer picture of the testimony the Catholic Church offered during the age of Jim Crow.”
[Ugh! While googling for Bishop Patrick N. Lynch I came across this page. Talk about Catholic apologists for the old south! Another article on there? The Daughters of Seton in the war for Southern independence! Woah! And it's a religious congregation? Then there's this piece at the SSPX website. (rolls eyes)]. As to the Church and slavery? It's quite complicated. And disturbing at times. I'll blog on that at some point. Maybe.