A History of Black Catholics in America

 The Black Catholic Movement circa 1930 –2020 reinvigorated the church, with liturgical innovation, new preaching styles and activist scholarship. The 20th century brought two significant developments in the American population of Black Catholics. The first was the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North and West, known as “the Great Migrations.” 

As black migrants moved into Catholic metropolises such as Chicago and Detroit, some progressive parishes invited black parents to enroll their children in Catholic schools. When they did so, black families were introduced to the rituals, prayers, and habits that defined Catholic culture at the time. They learned new ways of imagining, experiencing, and moving in the world. 

Tens of thousands of African Americans became Catholic as a result of these parochial school encounters, transforming the landscape of U.S. Catholicism. In Chicago, for example, the city’s black Catholic community numbered just a few hundred people meeting in the basement of a single parish in 1900. 

By 1975 Chicago was home to 80,000 black Catholics, the second largest black Catholic population in the country. In 1970, more black Catholics lived in Chicago than in New Orleans or Baltimore, an astonishing fact considering the centuries-long histories of black Catholic Louisiana and Maryland. 

Nationally the black Catholic population grew from less than 300,000 to nearly one million members between 1940 to 1975, while its center of gravity shifted from the coastal South to the industrial North. This growth in turn produced the second significant black Catholic happening of the 20th century. The Black Catholic Movement became many things all at once. There was a series of political struggles for self-determination in the institutional Church, fought in the circumstances of specific communities. 

The Black Catholic Movement has also inspired unprecedented liturgical innovation as musicians, theologians, and local congregations integrated African American and Afro-Diasporic religious practices into Catholic worship. The 1970s witnessed a flourishing of experimentation in black Catholic worship styles, as gospel and jazz music, West African drumming and dance, and black Protestant preaching styles all found their way into Catholic Masses. 

A “new” Black Catholic Movement converged in 1984 when the 10 black bishops of the United States declared that the black Catholic community in the United States had “come of age.” After more than a decade of activism, scholarship, and struggle, it was finally possible for black Catholics to be, in their words, both “authentically Black” and “truly Catholic.” 

Some believe that it is now time to focus on moving beyond the “mainstream” and “American” masks to seek deeper understanding; and to include a discussion that includes a whole host of brothers and sisters; Catholic Americans of Latin American, African, Asian, and Native American descent. We agree. 

Thus enters the vision of NATIONAL BLACK CATHOLICS FOR LIFE. Our vision is to unite communities as brothers and sisters in the “one blood, one human race beloved community” embraced in the 20thCentury by the prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

We also support the Sanctity of Human Life in all stages. The Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures whose direct purpose is to destroy a zygote, blastocyst, embryo or fetus, since it holds that "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. 

“From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person –among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." 

We are an outreach network of Priests for Life Civil Rights for The Unborn. By connecting with organizations and individuals, we work together to protect our families, and to end abortion by restoring a culture of spiritual awareness of and appreciation of the Sanctity of Life.

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Copyright 2020 National Black Catholics for Life