This chronology offers a list of selected dates related to the Catholic Church, Bishops, and Race in the Mid-20th Century website.
The Catholic Interracial Council of New York (CICNY) founded after split with Federated Colored Catholics
Father John A. Ryan delivers “The Place of the Negro in American Society” speech at Howard University in March.
Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Council holds Seminar on Social Action Problems of Negroes in Washington, D.C. in July. The meeting produces “Seminar on Negro Problems in the Field of Social Action”
Archbishop Joseph E. Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis orders the desegregation of all parochial schools in the archdiocese.
Archbishop Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington, D.C. gives sermon arguing that the Church had an obligation to meet the spiritual needs of African Americans, and that all were created equal regardless of race.
Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans orders the end of segregation within the archdiocese, though stops short of parochial school integration. He announced intentions for gradual integration of schools in 1956, but formal integration was not announced until 1962.
Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus directs the state National Guard to prevent nine African American students from enrolling in Little Rock’s Central High School, defying the Little Rock Board of Education’s plan to integrate the schools. The move draws harsh criticism from numerous sources, including the Vatican. Faubus is forced to relent after President Dwight Eisenhower orders members of the 101st Airborne to Little Rock and places the National Guard there under federal jurisdiction to escort the nine students to the school.
The National Catholic Welfare Conference, the gathering of the bishops of the U.S., releases “Racial Discrimination and the Christian Conscience,” which described racism as a moral and religious question. The bishops stated that all were equal in the sight of God, and due to this, segregation was incompatible with Catholic teaching.
Bishops Paul J. Hallinan of Charleston, South Carolina, Thomas McDonough of Savannah, Georgia, and Francis Hyland of Atlanta release a letter at Lent calling for the integration of parochial schools in their diocese as soon as possible.
Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy gather in Chicago for the National Conference on Race and Religion in January to provide a united front against racism at the national level. Among the ways clergy decided they could become involved were support for pastors who lose their jobs due to their opposition to segregation, use of church/synagogue economic power to influence fair employment practices, and support for open housing for African Americans.
In August, thousands of civil rights supporters came to Washington, D.C., to take part in the March on Washington. Though the most notable event of the march was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a number of Catholics took part in the march, including Archbishop O’Boyle, who delivered the invocation for the event.
The Inter-religious Convocation on Civil Rights is held in April at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The event, much like the one in Chicago a year earlier, brings together Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders not only as a show of unity, but to also encourage Congress to pass civil rights legislation. Three months later, President Lyndon Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Civil rights activists descend on Selma, Alabama, in March to participate in a protest march from there to the state capitol in Montgomery. The march attracted numerous Catholic clergy, despite the pleas of Archbishop Thomas Toolen of Mobile-Birmingham requesting that outside clergy not come to Alabama, as “outsiders” did not understand the situation, and that integration should be done through non-confrontational means.