South the 'birthplace of black Catholicism' says expert

.- Craig Manson, Distinguished Professor and Lecturer in Law at the University of the Pacific, has recently written about how the South in the U.S could be regarded as the “birthplace of black Catholicism.”

Explaining the historical context, Manson told CNA that “evidence suggests that the first black Catholics in America were those in Florida as early as 1565. They came with the Spanish explorers. Some were slaves; others were free Africans.”

“As for slaves, we know that the Spanish baptized their slaves and treated them like human beings, not property,” continued Manson. “Black people did comparatively well under Spanish rule in Florida, as opposed to, for example, South Carolina. In the late 1600s, slaves from the Carolinas began escaping to Florida, where one condition of their sanctuary there was baptism.”

Manson also told CNA that “there exists in St. Augustine a baptismal record for a black child dated 1606. Some scholars believe there were Catholic child baptisms in Florida earlier than that, but the records just haven't survived.”

“A great many black Catholics have roots in Louisiana,” explained Manson. “The reason is similar to the other situation: the French who governed Louisiana originally required slaves to be baptized and encouraged the preservation of family structures among slaves. They required slave marriages to be consecrated by the Church.”

“Additionally,” said Manson, “the French were quite a bit more liberal than the British when it came to interracial marriages.”

When asked about the significance of these findings, Manson told CNA that he believes that “understanding history gives us a perspective on the present. It explains why we are where we are and how we got there. As a life-long black Catholic myself, I didn't know much about the history of black Catholics until recently.”

“I think it's significant to know that not all black Catholics are recent converts - a widely held perception,” continued Manson. “My mother-in-law, for example, comes from a black family that traces its early Catholicism to the year 1722. All people should understand that black people have a long involvement with and commitment to the Church in America and elsewhere.”

“This knowledge is not for the purposes of dividing us, but for uniting us in the Universal Church.”


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