Mark NewmanApr 1, 2022
The Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945-1992
University Press of Mississippi 2018
In Desegregating Dixie: The Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945-1992 (UP of Mississippi, 2018), Mark Newman draws on a vast range of archives and many interviews to uncover for the first time the complex response of African American and white Catholics across the South to desegregation. In the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, the southern Catholic Church contributed to segregation by confining African Americans to the back of white churches and to black-only schools and churches. However, in the twentieth century, papal adoption and dissemination of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, pressure from some black and white Catholics, and secular change brought by the civil rights movement increasingly led the Church to address racial discrimination both inside and outside its walls.
Far from monolithic, white Catholics in the South split between a moderate segregationist majority and minorities of hard-line segregationists and progressive racial egalitarians. While some bishops felt no discomfort with segregation, prelates appointed from the late 1940s onward tended to be more supportive of religious and secular change. Some bishops in the peripheral South began desegregation before or in anticipation of secular change while elsewhere, especially in the Deep South, they often tied changes in the Catholic churches to secular desegregation.
African American Catholics were diverse and more active in the civil rights movement than has often been assumed. While some black Catholics challenged racism in the Church, many were conflicted about the manner of Catholic desegregation generally imposed by closing valued black institutions. Tracing its impact through the early 1990s, Newman reveals how desegregation shook congregations but seldom brought about genuine integration.
Winner of the 2020 American Studies Network Book Prize from the European Association for American Studies
Allison Isidore is the Assistant Director for the American Catholic Historical Association and is an Instructor of Record for the Religious Studies department at the University of Alabama. Her research interest is focused on the twentieth-century American Civil Rights Movement and the Catholic Church’s response to racism and the participation of Catholic clergy, nuns, and laypeople in marches, sit-ins, and kneel-ins during the 1950s and 1960s. Allison is also a Video Editor for The Religious Studies Project, producing videos for the podcast and marketing team. She tweets from @AllisonIsidore1.