Thursday, July 3, 2014

History of Black Catholics in the United States History of Black Catholics in the United States by Cyprian Davis, OSB, 260 pages

When the average American thinks of African-Americans and religion, they are not very likely to think of the Catholic Church.  Yet in 2002, there were estimated to be 3 million African-American Catholics in the US, which would make black Catholics, considered by themselves, the seventh largest Christian denomination in the country, larger than mainline bodies such as the Presbyterian Church USA, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and the Episcopal Church.  Catholics of African descent were part of the settlement at St Augustine, were involved in the Spanish exploration of the Southwest, and helped found the California missions.  The founder of the settlement that would become Chicago was a black Catholic, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (incidentally, he's buried in St Charles).
This book charts the territory where two American minorities intersect - African-Americans and Catholics.  It includes the story of the African-American contribution to the Catholic Church and the Catholic contribution to the civil rights movement, but it is primarily the tale of the civil rights movement within the Church, as African-Americans struggled for recognition from the hierarchy and the laity.  Fr Davis, himself a monk at St Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, pursues a sociological approach to his subject, but the narrative is enlivened by vivid portraits of notable individuals - he never loses sight of the fact that he is first and foremost writing about people, not movements.

An excellent study of a neglected subject.

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