Skip to comments.A Brief Synopsis of the Desegregation of Private Catholic Schools in the South
Posted on 08/25/2010 12:49:39 AM PDT by topher
Patrick H. Dobson
A Brief Synopsis of the Desegregation of Private Catholic Schools in the South
Private schooling has a long and reputable role in the history of the United States of America. Private schools predate that of public schools in the United States and continue to be a very reasonable alternative to public schooling. Historically, private schools have been prominent institutions of the New England and Midwest, rather than in the impoverished South or that of the newer West. During the 1950s and 1960s, America was experiencing a social movement that would reshape the way Americans would live and exist with one another in the country, forever. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a movement that sought to abolish the notion of the separate but equal ruling in the Plessey v. Ferguson case of 1896. In doing so, the movement hoped to rid the country of the policy of segregation that existed in every facet of American society up until the time of the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of the major issues that the Civil Rights movement was concerned with was the desegregation of schools, public or private, in the United States. Although most students, with at least a fifth grade education, know of how the Supreme Courts ruling in the 1954 case of Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas affected public schools; there has been very little discussion of the role played by the Catholic Church and the desegregation of private Catholic schools in the South. It is the intended purpose of this discussion to acknowledge how the Catholic Church desegregated the parochial schools in the South. This synopsis will take into consideration the emergence of Citizens Councils, as a form of resistance to desegregation, and desegregation of the private Catholic schools of Louisiana and Georgia.
The expression that, For every action, there is an equal reaction, can be correlated to the Civil Rights movement and the creation of Citizen Councils that sprang up all across the Southern area of the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. As a response to the Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas ruling, these councils were seen as a buffer against federal incursions on the traditional way of life in Dixie.
Some people call the Citizens Councils the White Citizens Councils or the white power structure, Hodding Carter would call these Councils the uptown Klan. Though these Councils wished not to be adjoined to the Ku Klux Klan, the aims of these Councils were the same: the maintenance of segregation and preservation of the Southern way of Life. Whereas, the Ku Klux Klan was considered to be a party of uneducated, slack-jawed, redneck thugs, the Councils would appeal to the better educated, more sophisticated Southern segregationist due to the fact that the Councils tactics were more subtle than that of the cross-burning Klan. Carter also goes on to suggest that, If the mark of a Klansman is cracking skulls, then the mark of a member of the Citizens Councils is twisting arms.
The first Citizens Council was formed in July of 1954 in Indianola, Mississippi. This was the first of hundreds of Citizens Councils to emerge throughout the South during the next year. These councils consisted of the more prosperous members of the community: businessmen, lawyers, planters, and political officials. These members felt that a national organization should be established in order to coordinate the activities of the numerous independent Councils. So, in 1956 the Citizens Councils of America was established. Historian George Thayer states in his book, The Father Shores of Politics: The American Political Fringe Today, that the purpose of this new organization was to ensure the preservation of the reserved natural rights of the people of the states, including primarily the separation of the races in the schools and all institutions involving personal and social relations.
Whereas the Klan resorted to physical violence to get the message of segregation across to both whites and blacks, the Councils tactics were far less severe. The Councils would use their economic, political, and social pressure to keep the white community in check, as well as that of the black population. Though the Councils would hope to have one believe that its members were acting in the best interest of the community, their activities added to the bitter climate and hatred that persisted in the South. These Councils would put up strong resistance to the desegregation of private Catholic schools in the South, during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
During the time of the Civil Rights movement, the Catholic Dioceses of southern states experienced different attitudes to the desegregation of Catholic schools in their respective communities. Two southern states that experienced opposite reactions, on the spectrum of acceptance, were the Dioceses of Louisiana and Georgia. Whereas the Catholic Dioceses of New Orleans and Lafayette experienced harsh and, at times, physical resistance to the desegregation of the parochial schools in their communities, the integration of the parochial schools in Atlanta was that of a peaceful transition.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans experienced harshest response to its stance on integrating their parochial schools. During the 1950s, the Catholic population of New Orleans was estimated to have been around six-hundred thousand members in all, about half the number of all Catholics living in the South. It is during this time that the Archbishop of New Orleans is an eighty-two year old man by the name of Joseph Francis Rummel. In February of 1956, Rummel declared segregation to be morally wrong and that the parochial schools in his diocese would be integrated at the earliest possible opportunity. This was in response to one of the first acts of Catholic resistance, in the small town of Jesuit Bend, to the integration of the archdiocese of New Orleans.
On the first Sunday of October of 1955, The Reverend Gerald Lewis, a black priest, was sent to St. Cecillas chapel to give mass one Sunday morning. As Lewis attempted to enter the chapel, he was barred entry by three white members of the congregation. The priest left, not saying mass, and reported the incident to archbishop Rummel.
In response to this action, taken by the members of the St. Cecilla chapel, Rummel issued an interdict; that is, he suspended services at that church until the members recanted their actions. The following Sunday, Rummel would preach that, Such conduct was, in itself, a clear violation of a true Catholic spirit and was deserving of severe censure and even penalty. Rummel would go on to say that such indignities were violations of Christian justice and could not be ignored in a modern society. 
It wasnt long after Rummel made these comments that a Citizens Council of New Orleans came to back the segregationists of Jesuit Bend. The Councils leader was District Attorney Leander Perez. Perez would claim that desegregation was communist-inspired and questioned the archbishops right to force such a strict punishment on a congregation for not wishing to change their way of practicing their faith. Though Rummel stood fast and strong on his position, so did those backing Perez. It wouldnt be until 1958, when the members of the St. Cecilla chapel would finally sign a letter of repentance and the church was opened again.
Like the resistance to desegregation in the New Orleans diocese, the diocese of Lafayette of Louisiana experienced segregation in catechetical classes. Catechetical classes are the Sunday Bible school classes that the children of the congregation attend until they are ready to attend mass. The extent to which the tensions in the town of Erath, Louisiana would leave people in bandages and congregation members excommunicated.
In the city of Erath, Louisiana, catechetical classes were segregated by race; white children in the front row and black children in the back row. This all changed two months after the incident in the town of Jesuit Bend. Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard, the bishop of the Our Lady of Lourdes parish, responded to the Jesuit Bend affair by having the students sit alphabetically in the catechetical classes, regardless of race. Parishioners feared that these new seating assignments were just the beginning of desegregation within the church and the parish school. Opponents to the desegregation of the classes responded by creating a City Council, known as The Southern Gentlemens Organization of Louisiana, which had support form District Attorney Perez. This organization would state that the desegregation of these classes was, again, Communist-inspired, and went so far as to call President Dwight D. Eisenhower a two-timing, Nigger loving individual. Some of the members of this Council, women included, expressed their anger and threatened to use physical violence against not only the instructors of these classes, but also on the children themselves.
On November 16, 1955, two pro-segregation Catholic women attacked a white catechetical teacher as she was walking to the parish to pray. Bishop Jeanmard, infuriated, wasted no time in punishing the two women responsible by excommunicating them. He stated that,These actions were a step backwards rather than forwards in the handling of the delicate question of race relations. Jeanmard went onto say that if further such resistance to the desegregation of the classes were noticed; he would close the church indefinitely. The two women repented and the excommunications were lifted.
Though the Louisiana dioceses experienced a strong resistance to the desegregation of both church and parochial schools, the Archdiocese of Atlanta experienced a calm transition to the integration of its parochial schools. Two bishops can be accredited for this transition: Bishop Francis E. Hyland and Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan.
The Catholic population of Atlanta during the late 1950s to the early 1960s was relatively small to that of Louisiana, with a membership of only around thirty-three thousand parishioners. Though Atlanta was home of the Ku Klux Klan since its revival in 1915, there was little resistance to the move for desegregating the parochial schools of Atlanta.
The bishop to stand for the desegregation of parochial schools in Atlanta was Bishop Francis E. Hyland.
Bishop Hyland was a staunch desegregationist. In a written reply to an Associated Press questionnaire, he said he did not believe the pattern of segregation can endure to long in the state of Georgia. He would go on to argue that in 1958, a united stand of the American Bishops Council condemned segregation in all forms. Bishop Hyland argued that these bishops reasoning for taking such a stand on segregation were explained in two vital points: A.) It is unreasonable and injurious to the rights of other s that a factor such as race should be made a cause of discrimination and B.) Legal segregation imposes a stigma of inferiority upon the segregated people. &
The stage was now set for desegregating the Atlanta parochial schools and in stepped the first Archbishop of Atlanta; Paul J. Hallinan. Archbishop Hallinan took over the reins of the diocese of Atlanta in February of 1962. In a splendid piece of irony the archbishops new diocese offices were located in the former national headquarters of the, violently anti-Catholic, Grand Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. And it was from this office that Hallinan would call for the desegregation of all parochial schools in the Atlanta area.
Ten weeks after the archbishop had made his arrival in Atlanta, he was ready to announce the desegregation of all Catholic Schools in the archdiocese. But first, Hallinan need to know how many black students would choose to transfer to white private Catholic schools. In the spring of 1962, at the registration time of the Catholic high schools, only six black eighth-graders applied for admission to white Catholic schools. This was an indication to Hallinan that there would not be a massive influx of black students into white schools, and hence, there would not be such a public outcry as to make the question of desegregation a dominant issue, with respect to Atlanta parochial schools.
After Hallinan concluded that the influx of black Catholic students into predominantly white Catholic schools would not be an issue, he now needed to the backing of his bishops and priests. At the beginning of June, the archbishop went to Marist College to meet with parents and advisors. Marist college was the most prestigious Catholic high school in Atlanta and it was crucial that integration should work smoothly here. Hallinan mentioned his plan to desegregate the Catholic parochial school to a crowd of parishioners and was accepted with a pleasing reaction. One priest who was present at the function was heard to say, Damn the torpedoes! The next day, June 10, would be the day of a formal declaration by the archdiocese that desegregation would be implemented in all Atlanta private Catholic schools.
There was no public outcry to this declaration of desegregation, at all. Ralph McGill, a journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and a Presbyterian, applauded the Catholic leadership in the arena of racial justice. He noted that the archbishop had waited to make the announcement on the day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit helped the first disciples to overcome their fears and prejudices to make Christianity a world religion. McGill went on to say that,The Archbishop was saying to his flock that they must put aside prejudices and stand for Christian morality.
After the announcement, Hallinan thought there would be a public outcry of opposition, but to his surprise, there were none. The diocese office received a few angry telephone calls and letters, but there was no real opposition, no Citizens Councils, nothing. Hallinan would later recall that, during a lunch following the announcement, an elderly lady approached him with disgust in her eyes and a sense that he was finally going to get a tongue lashing. He did, though it wasnt for desegregating the cities parochial schools, it was to complain about the changes to the liturgy.
The desegregation of private Catholic schools in the South was another step toward racial equality among blacks and whites during the time of the Civil Rights movement. The emergence of Citizens Councils was a negative response by pro-segregationist to hinder the acceptance of desegregation in the South. Though these Councils persisted in disavowing any association with the Ku Klux Klan, the discrepancies between the two organizations are bleak and vague.
The issue of school integration in New Orleans was in part an action in response to the disrespect that was shown at Jesuit Bend. In Lafayette, private school desegregation went as early as preschool and was not tolerated. Then there is the story of the peaceful transition to private school integration in Atlanta. Though each state had different challenges facing its stance on desegregation, the results were inevitably the same. That is a testament of both Church and man.
 Waldron, Ann. 1972, Hodding Carter: The Reconstruction of a Racist. Cambridge University Press
2 Thayer, George.1967, The Farther Shores of Politics: The American Political Fringe Today. Simon and Schuster
3 Tarrow, Sidney. 1998. Power in Movement. Cambridge
4 Wicklein, John. 1959. Catholic Archbishop Backs New Orleans Integration. The New York Times. 20
5Fairclough, Adam. 1995. Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana. University of Georgia Press
6Ochs, Stephen J. 1993. Desegregating the Altar: The Josephites and the Struggle for Black Priest 1871-1960. Louisiana State University
7 Toups, Kathleen. 1998. The Gentle Shepard: A Memoir of Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard. Herbert Publication.
8December 2, 1955. Excommunication Decree is Lifted. Southwest Louisiana Register.
9 February 1, 1968. Philadelphia Rites Monday For Atlantas First Bishop. The Atlanta Journal. 9-A.
10 Hyland, Bishop Francis E. 1961. Pastoral Letter I.
11 Glazier, Michael.
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14 McGill, Ralph. June 12, 1962. Atlanta Journal Constitution.
 Waldron, Ann. 1972, Hodding Carter: The Reconstruction of a Racist. Cambridge
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 Tarrow, Sidney. 1998. Power in Movement. Cambridge
 Wicklein, John. 1959. Catholic Archbishop Backs New Orleans Integration.
The New York Times. 20
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of Georgia Press.
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December 2, 1955. Excommunication Decree is Lifted. Southwest Louisiana Register.
 February 1, 1968. Philadelphia Rites Monday For Atlantas First Bishop. The Atlanta Journal. 9-A.
 Hyland, Bishop Francis E. 1961. Pastoral Letter I.
 Glazier, Michael. 1997. The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History. The Liturgical Press.
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 Shelly, Thomas J. 1989. Paul J. Hallinan: First Archbishop of Atlanta.
Michael Glazier, Inc.
 McGill, Ralph. June 12, 1962. Atlanta Journal Constitution.
 Hallinan, Archbishop Paul J. 1962. His Diary.
However, the flaw I see in this person's perspective, having lived in both areas, is that Catholics in Georgia were persecuted by the Klu Klux Klan. This was not true in predominately Catholic South Louisiana.
A retired priest I knew in Georgia told me that you requirement to be a member of the Klu Klux Klan to be on the Atlanta Police force in the 1960's.
There was no violence with Catholics in Georgia because both white and black Catholics were persecuted by the KKK.
In terms of Archbishop Hallinan, I think he poked some fun at the KKK by doing some of his work of desegregation from the former office of the Grand Wizard of the KKK.
Were there public Catholic schools in the South?
No, there were private “other” schools in the South; I think that’s what they mean.
The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament was able to build schools throughout the South for African Americans because on its members used the Family Fortune to build Catholic Schools. This was Katherine Drexel (now Saint Katherine Drexel).
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