To Catholic bishops of his time, Rudd made the case that Black Catholics had no one to act on their behalf. As an organized presence, they could work to support priests and to bring Blacks into the Church.
Another goal of Rudd, advocacy for justice issues, was much less popular and required a diplomatic approach.
He would argue against racists of his time, including other Catholics. But he considered racism among White Catholics to be an “Americanism” that did not reflect the universal Catholic Church, Agee said. He also faced obstacles in “paternalistic” attitudes. Would-be White allies could back job opportunities for Blacks and their ability to testify in court, but balked at social equality.
One exception was Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul. His May 5, 1890 sermon at St. Augustine’s Church in Washington, D.C. condemned racial prejudice and the marginalization of Blacks. “Let Christians act out their religion, and there is no more race problem,” he said, insisting that Blacks and Whites “are both equally the children of a common Father, who is in heaven.”
Many Black Catholics welcomed Ireland’s homily, even when some of their own allies did not.
Despite some signs of social progress, Rudd’s work took place in a national environment that could be extremely hostile.
When Blacks became the victims of a wave of racist lynchings in 1892, he vocally opposed such murders. Rudd’s newspaper sold only in the northern states, Agee said. When one of Rudd’s employees traveled to Mississippi to sell newspapers, he too was almost lynched.
The circulation of the American Catholic Tribune peaked in 1892 at 10,000 copies per edition. A competing newspaper launched under Catholic auspices in Philadelphia, and subscriptions to Rudd’s newspaper dropped.
Agee suggested that Black Catholic advocates lost support from White Catholic leaders because they increasingly demanded that the Church live up to its own standards. For instance, the clergy told lay Catholics to send their children to parochial schools, but Catholic schools in many places did not allow Blacks.
Rudd’s own newspaper faced financial problems. He moved the newspaper to Detroit, but it folded in 1897 and he had to change careers.
He would go on to work under Scott Bond, a Black businessman in Arkansas who was an associate of the leading Black educator and self-help advocate Booker T. Washington.
(Story continues below)
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Late in life, Rudd returned to Bardstown, Ky. and died on Dec. 3, 1933. His death certificate identifies him as a teacher. He is buried in the church cemetery of what is now the Basilica of St. Joseph, his childhood church. Then-Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville blessed an historic marker near his gravesite in 2020.
An historic preservation effort sought to preserve the site of Rudd’s death, the mansion house of the Anatok plantation which is now on the property of the Catholic Bethlehem High School. But demolition of the mansion began there Feb. 7.
The Archdiocese of Louisville voiced support for the high school’s decision to demolish the property, saying the property is unsafe, in disrepair, and has been the site of disturbances requiring police attention. The high school needs the space to increase enrollment and other needs of the school.
At the same time, the high school will create a memorial to Rudd at the mansion’s location.
“Rudd is a Black Catholic hero whose enslaved mother worked on this property,” the Louisville archdiocese said in a Feb. 9 statement, saying the school will seek to educate about “the sin of racism” and speak of Rudd’s contributions and “prophetic work.”
There are many other stories of advocates like Rudd.