Authentically Black and Truly CatholicThe Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration

Authentically Black and Truly CatholicThe Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration

Matthew J. Cressler

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9781479841325

Publisher: NYU Press


Black Catholics are absent in most histories of U.S. Catholicism and African American religion. Drawn from a wide variety of sources, this book is a lived religious history of Black Catholics in Chicago that demonstrates how new characters and conclusions come to the fore when we move Black Catholics from the margins of our stories to their center. As the Great Migrations transformed the religious landscape of the urban North, Black migrants forged fraught relationships with white missionaries intent on converting entire neighborhoods. Tens of thousands of Black people became Catholic in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. When they did so, they embraced a ritual life and relationships that distinguished them from the evangelical churches proliferating around them. These rituals and relationships came under intense scrutiny by the late 1960s, however, when a growing group of Black Catholic activists sparked a revolution in U.S. Catholicism. Inspired by Black Power and Vatican II, they fought for the self-determination of Black parishes and the right to be both “authentically Black and truly Catholic.” This was neither inevitable nor uncontroversial, however. Faced with strong opposition from fellow Black Catholics, activists became missionaries of a sort as they sought to convert coreligionists to a distinctively Black Catholicism. Rather than presume the unanimity of black consciousness, the ubiquity of Black activism, or the uniformity of Black religion, this book brings to light the lived complexity of being Black and Catholic in Chicago, one of the most significant Catholic communities in the country.