Nov 29, 2007
This book tells the story of black Catholics in Natchez, Mississippi during the days of the Jim Crow laws. Danny Duncan Collum and his assistants interviewed several African Americans about life in Natchez during those days before segregation ended. At that time, blacks could not use the same bathrooms, water fountains, restaurants, seating on buses, or other places like whites. For younger Americans this seems like something from another planet. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that segregation was ended although many can say that it has not been completed yet.
Collum and his group, with the help of the Glenmary Research Center, an organization which works as a missionary order of priests, brothers and sisters especially in the poor areas of the South, collected this history of a particular black Catholic community in the South; that of Holy Family Catholic Church founded in 1890.
The Catholic Church in some regions of the South was ahead of the Civil Rights Movement. Several bishops would not tolerate segregation in churches or schools. This did not please many white Catholics, but the bishops and others stood their ground. The Catholic Church in Natchez, Mississippi is an example of this where the Catholic clergy and religious did not tolerate segregation. Many of them helped the local blacks to integrate the community.
Holy Family Catholic Church served as the local headquarters for the NAACP for years. The pastor, who was white, was an active member of NAACP. Some clergy were threatened with their lives, but they did not back down. They served as examples to other white Catholics to join them in integrating society. The Catholic schools were integrated and the teachers who were usually religious sisters would encourage their black students to act and be treated as equals. Many of the interviews point this encouragement out. This helped many of those interviewed to stand up for their rights, but to treat others as equals too.
This book is very readable and many of the interviews are written just as the person spoke giving the reader a first hand account of events in Natchez. They testify to what the Catholic Church did to help the Civil Rights Movement.
This book is highly recommended to those interested in Catholic Church history in the South especially in regards with African American Catholics or those interested in the days before and after the Civil Rights Movement.
Danny Duncan Collum is an assistant professor at Kentucky State University and served as an assistant editor of the journal, Sojourners, to which he still contributes. He also is the author of Black and White Together (1996) and African Americans in the Spanish Civil War (1991).
Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.