As blacks began to pour into northern cities to escape oppression in the South as part of the “great migration” in the early nineteen hundreds, the Catholic Church responded by modifying its long-standing policy of assigning Catholics to parishes based on where they lived. In his 1970 book Black Priest, White Church: Catholics and Racism, Father Lawrence Lucas, a black Catholic priest, reported his experiences growing up in the 1930s and 1940s in New York’s Central Harlem. As the neighborhood’s racial composition shifted, whites remained assigned to their nearest parish church, but the Catholic hierarchy segregated all African Americans into St. Mark’s Parish, regardless of where they lived. They also designated St. Mark’s school as the destination for black children, which was put under the special direction of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for the Indians and Colored People, an order of nuns founded in 1891 to work specifically with Native Americans and African Americans. White clergy rigidly enforced these lines, which protected the other eight white parishes from being integrated, sometimes violently. Father Lucas recalled one zealous priest standing on the church steps with a bullwhip to discourage any blacks from attending services. Reflecting back on his experience of these racist practices, Lucas noted dryly, “This wasn’t the bad, bad South, it was the good, good North.”

From “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” by Robert P. Jones – Simon & Schuster

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