Let us Not Forget to Include Black Catholics in Black History Month


Article by: Bro. Alonza Baker
St. Athanasius Parish
Philadelphia, PA

It’s February already and that means it is Black History Month here in the United States of America. During this time of year many of us display our African Art, and visit Afro-American history museums and cultural events; and television programs are loaded with stories of the many Afro-Americans who were involved in our struggle for freedom, equality, and dignity.

I am sure many of us would have some of the same names on a list of favorite Abolitionists, Civil Rights leaders, and workers. Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Booker T Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X., and Daniel Rudd top my list.

According to Wikipedia, Harriett Tubman and Fredrick Douglas were born into slavery and became abolitionists after escaping; and Booker T. Washington was born into slavery and freed after the Civil War. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. were major players in the civil rights struggles of the sixties, but who was Daniel Rudd?

Daniel Rudd was born into slavery two years before Booker T. Washington and was also freed after the civil war. He published a Black newspaper, the Ohio Standard Tribune. A year later he directed its content to the Afro-American Catholic community and changed its name to the American Catholic Tribune – the first of its kind in the U.S.

This man had many things in common with the other names on my list and since many of us have never heard of him, I think it is about time we included him in our thinking when considering Black History Month. November is Black Catholic History Month. During that time our focus seems to be more on Black and African Catholic Saints, Martyrs, and Causes, and not on the Black laity of the Catholic Church. Daniel Rudd was a Lay Catholic, and his efforts were directed within the Roman Catholic Church, but his main focus was always the African American, his community and the Afro-American Laity of the Catholic Church.

Take this excerpt from “The History of Black Catholics in the United States” by the late Father Cyprian Davis:

On a winter afternoon in January 1889, a group of almost a hundred men, all African Americans, made their way through the streets of Washington, D.C., to the White House to be ushered into the presence of President Grover Cleveland. It was a unique occasion. Cleveland was in the last days of his first term as president, and blacks were not frequent guests in the White House. What was more significant, however, was that this body of men were both blacks and Catholics from all parts of the nation and that this was the first time in the Catholic church’s history in the United States that blacks had come together as a body, consciously aware of themselves as a group. President Cleveland told them that good religious people were a powerful help to the government and administration of a nation.

Who was this man, who could get 100 black men, to travel across the country to meet and discuss issues to better the condition of African Americans?

Again, according to Father Davis:

The visit to the White House was surpassed only by the cablegram from Pope Leo XIII’s secretary of state, Cardinal Rampolla, which made known to the delegates of the congress that the pope had sent them his apostolic blessing. Less than a quarter of a century after the end of slavery, a Roman pontiff had given his approbation and blessing to a nationwide assembly of black Catholic men.

Who was this man, that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome Italy would know what he was doing here in the United States of America and give him his approval and blessing?

Daniel Rudd and other black men met in this fashion for Five (5) consecutive years. The meetings were called “Colored Catholic Congress.” The agenda of these congresses included issues like education of our youth, employment, housing and equality of treatment for all Afro-Americans. The Colored Catholic Congress is known today as the National Black Catholic Congress.

A lot more that can be said about Daniel Rudd and why he should be included in all serious discussions of black leaders in our historical struggle for freedom, equality and dignity. Find out more by reading “The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by the late Father Cyprian Davis, now in its second edition; or take a class at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Bala Cywd, PA. Check out their Certificate in Pastoral Ministry to Black Catholics (MBC) program at http://www.scs.edu/

The next National Black Catholic Congress is being held in Orlando Florida July 5th thru July 9th 2017. The theme for this Congress is “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God.

For more information contact your parish, or Deacon William Bradley of the Office for Black Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at http://officeforblackcatholicsadphila.org/; or visit the National Black Catholic Congress website at https://www.nbccongress.org/home.html.