Browse Exhibits (3 total)

African-American Catholics

Catholics and Race: The Federated Colored Catholics

In the struggle for racial equality in America, even people of good faith have often disagreed over the best strategies for winning the battle. Some have argued that African-Americans or other racial minorities have needed the chance to unite, gain power, and win respect from white majorities. Others have contended that convincing white, and indeed all Americans, to be colorblind--to not "see" race--has been the best plan. Such disagreements emerged among American Catholics in the 1920s and 1930s in debates between Dr. Thomas Wyatt Turner, an African-American layman, and Father John LaFarge, a white Jesuit and long time civil rights advocate.

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An African-American President in 1976?

In the 1930s and 1940s, comic books were one of the most popular forms of entertainment among the nation's youth, combining as they did narratives, graphics, and low prices. The 1940s in particular witnessed an explosion of new comic creations, most of which focused on superheroes, adventure, and action. This new medium, however, quickly became the subject of controversy. Many of the comics were considered "undesirable" by parents and teachers because of their violent content. Publishers frequently produced horror, crime, and war stories with explicitly gory illustrations.

The U.S. Bishops became concerned over the possibly harmful effects of such comics on the moral character of young people. In 1946, responding to an appeal by the Commission on American Citizenship at The Catholic University of America, George A. Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio, began publishing a bi-monthly comic book, the Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact for distribution in Catholic Parochial Schools. The Treasure Chest was intended as a remedy to the sensationalism of traditional comics: it contained educational features, narrated the lives of saints, and presented adventure stories featuring realistic characters with what were considered wholesome values, like patriotism, equality, faith, and anti-communism.

By the early 1960s, the Treasure Chest was at the height of its popularity. Some of the top names in comic books provided stories and illustrations for it, including such people as Frank Borth, Fran Matera, and Frank Evers. In 1964, Joe Sinnott, the illustrator of Marvel Comics' "The Fantastic Four," teamed up with writer Berry Reece to produce a story depicting a U.S. presidential election. It was set in the future: the presidential election was supposedly that of 1976, the year on the nation's bicentennial. "Pettigrew for President" lasted for 10 issues, following the campaign trail of the fictional Tim Pettigrew from the announcement of his candidacy through the national convention of his party. The candidate's face was carefully hidden in every panel, until the final page of the final issue of the story, when Pettigrew is finally revealed: the first black candidate for president of the United States!

This site reproduces the entire "Pettigrew for President" series in a digital format. It places this unique comic book story in the context of the 1960s civil rights movement, and provides background information on the creators of the series.

 

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The Catholic Church, Bishops, and Race in the Mid-20th Century

While battles were waged against racist institutions in America in the decades prior, it was the 1940s-1960s that set the tone for the momentous changes in the history of African Americans. Often termed the “Second American Revolution,” the Civil Rights Movement of those decades sought the end of segregation across a wide swath of American society, including schools and other public organizations. The Catholic Church in the United States saw the struggle for equality within its own walls, and many church leaders were determined to not only free their institutions from segregation, but to work for its demise in the general population as well. While recognition of the Church’s work in civil rights has paled in comparison to the luminaries of the movement, several individuals and organizations made a mark in the movement nonetheless, despite facing resistance at times from within their own parishes and institutions.

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