Desegregating DixieThe Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945-1992

Desegregating DixieThe Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945-1992

Mark Newman

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781496818867

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


This book draws on a vast range of archives and many interviews to uncover for the first time the multifaceted and complex response of African American and white Catholics across the South to desegregation. In the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, the southern Catholic Church contributed to segregation by confining Africans Americans to the back of white churches and black schools and churches. However, papal adoption and dissemination of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ in the mid-1940s, pressure from some black and white Catholics and secular change brought by the civil rights movement, sometimes with federal support, increasingly led the Church to address racial discrimination behind and outside its walls. Far from monolithic, white Catholics in the South divided between a moderate segregationist majority and minorities of hard-line segregationists and progressive racial egalitarians. While some bishops felt no discomfort with segregation, prelates appointed from the late 1940s tended to be more supportive of religious and secular change. Some bishops in the peripheral South began segregation before or in anticipation of secular change, while elsewhere, and especially in the Deep South, they often tied Catholic to secular desegregation. African American Catholics were diverse and more active in the civil rights movement than often assumed. While some black Catholics challenged racism in the Church, many were conflicted about the manner of Catholic desegregation generally imposed by closing black institutions. Tracing its impact through the early 1990s, Newman reveals how desegregation seldom brought integration.