Sunday, July 7, 2013

Segregation In Catholic Schools, 1956 - 1960

            As I was rooting around in the archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans I ran across these three pastoral letters from Archbishop Rummel regarding intregration in Catholic schools.  (All three of which are the property of the Archdiocese.)  The first, THE MORALITY OF RACIAL SEGREGATION, was written in February, 1956, less than two years after Brown v. Board of Education.  Despite the title of the letter, the Church was opposed to segregration and this letter explains, chapter and verse (literally) why segregation is abhorrent.  The next letter, INTEGRATION IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, dated July 1956, outlines the Archbishop’s plan to integrate Catholic schools.  It is important to remember that the Church is integrating while public schools in New Orleans are resisting, despite the Supreme Court ruling.  Interesting that at no time does the Archbishop cite Brown v. Board of Education, passing over state and/or federal law and adhering instead to Church and Papal principal.  While the Church is in favor of integration and fully prepared to implement it, Archbishop Rummel realizes that the attitude of his laity doesn’t necessarily jive with the Church’s stance.  His plan is to integrate gradually, one grade at a time, beginning in the fall semester of 1957 - one year after the edict goes down.  He says in the letter “During the year our Catholic attitude will be further explained in all patience and charity to remove doubts, misunderstandings and other difficulties.” (Emphasis added.)  Clearly, the people of New Orleans are going to need time to adjust and the Church is prepared to give it to them, but they will adjust and no bones about it!  Also interesting to note that some Catholic schools are already integrated and they will continue on with no change.
            The third, REOPENING OF SCHOOLS, was written four years later in August of 1960 and is the most profound and poignant of the three.  With the battle over integration in public schools raging on, the fracas over the Misses Bridges, Tate, Prevost, and Etienne[1] is about to erupt and it is known that integration absolutely will set off a maelstrom of civic unrest and violence.  Archbishop Rummel is clearly concerned.  In this letter he mainly addresses Catholics who send their children to public schools.  (I love it, he says "for whatever reason.")  Here, for the first time, he speaks of the Supreme Court ruling and encourages Catholic families to attend Catholic schools and universities; all of which, by now, are fully integrated.  He also sternly reminds the laity that they will send their children to classes for religious instruction - classes which are also integrated.
            I think, most of all, it is fascinating to see this example of church and state separation at work and to view, first hand, a church fighting segregation on moral principals versus a state fighting integration on emotional grounds.

[1] Ruby Bridge was integrated into William Frantz Elementary School; Leona Tate, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost were integrated into McDonogh No. 19 and are known as The McDonogh Three.