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Special Collections — African American History Resources

Special Collections holds a variety of resources related to the African American experience and the Catholic Church in the United States.

Curator, American Catholic History Research Center

African American History Resources at the Catholic University of America's Special Collections

 

In his landmark 1990 scholarly work, Black Catholics in the United States, Cyprian Davis presents a deeply researched history of African American Catholics in the United States. He proved that, while Black Catholics seemed invisible across U.S. Catholic history, in fact, the American Church has never been exclusively a white and European one. In fact, as he writes, “the African presence has influenced the Catholic church in every period of its history.” He concludes that for “[t]oo long have black Catholics been anonymous. It is clear they can be identified, that their presence has made an impact, and that their contributions have made Catholicism a unique and stronger body.”[1] In that spirit, we offer an overview of some of our richest materials related to the Black Catholic experience in the United States, including the papers of Father Cyprian Davis himself.


[1] Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 259.

The Catholic Interracial Council of New York Records

Building upon the anti-racist efforts of the Federated of Colored Catholics (FCC) and assisted by the lawyer/activist George K. Hunton, Father John LaFarge, S.J., founded an interracial group based on Catholic teaching to promote mutual understanding and social justice among Blacks and Whites. The result was the Catholic Interracial Council of New York (CICNY), established in June, 1934. The CICNY disseminated information and held meetings and conferences on Catholic teaching and race. Through the 1940s, the CICNY addressed issues such as the Scottsboro Boys’ case, lynching, communism, and the effort to open the defense industry to Black workers. The CICNY also regularly honored Catholic civil rights activists with a number of annual awards and celebrations, including the annual John A. Hoey Interracial Justice Award. The idea of interracial councils led to their formation in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Washington, DC. By 1954, 24 Catholic Interracial Councils had been created. 

The landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision declaring school segregation unconstitutional generated new levels of activism. In 1958, the various councils formed the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice (NCCIJ) as its voice to draw the attention of all Catholics. As the civil rights struggle intensified in the South during the 1960s and the national dominance of the NCCIJ increased, the CICNY decided to devote its expertise to local civil rights activities. The NCCIJ, originally headquartered in Chicago, later moved to Washington and were well-represented during the 1963 March on Washington. 

As the LaFarge/Hunton era ended in the late 1950s, the focus of CICNY activities changed from national to local New York City issues. Under the guidance of Hunton's successors, Dennis Clark (1962) and Arthur Wright (1963), the first African American to hold high office in the CICNY, the organization became involved in a variety of New York City housing and education issues. They also monitored ongoing racial problems, such as job discrimination and housing conditions in poor neighborhoods in New York City.

The CICNY continued well into the 1990s, but had declined markedly in activity and importance by the late 1970s. The NCCIJ moved to the forefront as the national Catholic organization on race relations and the CICNY lost substantial foundation support, creating serious financial problems that forced the CICNY to drastically curtail its activities. The Interracial Review, one of its more important undertakings since its founding, ceased publication in 1966, although it was revived in a much less ambitious format in the 1970s.

The CICNY Records contain correspondence, pamphlets, meeting minutes, article drafts, reports, photographs, ephemera, and clippings. The materials dating from 1921 to 1933 relate to the Cardinal Gibbons Institute and the materials from 1934 to 1998 document CICNY offices and activities. The photographs include Council members and there is a full set of the Interracial Review, the journal of the CICNY, which reflects the views of the Council on a wide range of civil rights issues. Several civil rights leaders, including A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins, contributed to the journal.

A finding aid for the Catholic Interracial Council of New York Records can be found here.

The Paul Philips Cooke Papers

The Paul Philips Cooke Papers

Educator and activist, Paul Philips Cooke (1917-2010), a member of Washington’s D.C.’s Sacred Heart parish, lived most of his long life in the District. A graduate of Dunbar High School, Cooke earned a Bachelor of Science degree in English from Miner's Teachers College (later District of Columbia Teachers College and then the University of the District of Columbia) in 1937, a Master of Arts degree in Education from New York University in 1941, a Master of Arts in English Literature from The Catholic University of America in 1942, and a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University in 1947. He taught high school in the District of Columbia prior to teaching at the District of Columbia Teachers College (DCTC), where he served as president from 1966 to 1974. He was an active member of the Catholic Interracial Council of the District of Columbia (CIC DC) for over 50 years. Among its activities, the CIC DC sought to foster the integration of the Catholic Church and public spaces in D.C. and initiated the Faith of Millions radio program on station WOOK in 1952. Cooke also examined the working conditions and employment practices in diocesan churches, and reviewed textbooks used in Catholic schools in D.C. In 1994, Dr. Cooke helped organize the CIC DC's 50th anniversary celebration.

The collection includes correspondence, clippings, reports, meeting minutes, photos, pamphlets, and publications. The Cooke Papers are divided into three Series: Catholic Interracial Council of the District of Columbia; Sacred Heart, 1966-1992; and Photographs, 1940-1994. The CIC DC Series includes material documenting the organization’s activities, like the Ward scholarship fund and the Faith of Millions radio program, as well as clippings and publications on African-American Catholics in D.C. The Sacred Heart Series is comprised of material related to Dr. Cooke's activities in the Parish, and the Photograph Series includes a few photos used to promote CIC DC events and photos of residents of the Blessed Martin House of Hospitality in D.C.

A finding aid for the Paul Philips Cooke papers can be found here.

The Cyprian Davis Papers

Cyprian Davis, born Clarence John Davis (1930-2015) in Washington, D.C., was a historian and archivist. A convert to Catholicism in his teenage years, Davis expressed an early interest in the priesthood. Davis joined the seminary of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, where he became a novice in 1950, and took the monastic name Cyprian in 1951. Ordained a priest on May 3, 1956, Davis became the first African American to join the monastic community of St. Meinrad.

He began his academic career in 1948, studying at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where he received a Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1957. Davis then studied church history abroad at The Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where he obtained a licentiate in 1963. He taught church history at St. Meinrad before returning to Louvain to for his doctorate degree in 1977. Father Davis authored and co-authored several pioneering monographs, including "Christ's image in Black: the Black Catholic Community before the Civil War" and "The History of Black Catholics in the United States." Davis’s papers include many unpublished manuscripts on black history and black Catholic history. He served as archivist for Saint Meinrad Archabbey and the National Black Catholic Clergy Conference. Davis was also central to the writing of two pastoral letters. The first, in 1979, was the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism, “Brothers and Sisters to Us”; the second from 1984, “What We Have Seen and Heard” was on behalf of the Black Catholic Bishops of the United States. 

The Davis Papers include correspondence, academic papers, printed material, audiovisual records, ephemera, and awards and honors.

A finding aid for the Cyprian Davis papers can be found here.

 

The Haynes-Lofton Family Papers

This collection is comprised of the personal papers of Catholic University of America alumna Euphemia Lofton Haynes, her husband Harold Appo Haynes, and their families. A native Washingtonian all her life, Euphemia Lofton Haynes (1890-1980) received a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Smith College in 1914, a Master's in Education from the University of Chicago in 1930, and a Doctorate in Mathematics from Catholic University in 1943. She taught in the public schools of Washington, D.C. for forty-seven years and was the first woman to chair the D.C. School Board. She figured prominently in the integration of the D.C. public schools and also of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.

A fourth generation Washingtonian, Dr. Haynes was active in many community activities. She served as first vice president of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, chairman of the Advisory Board of Fides Neighborhood House, on the Committee of International Social Welfare, on the Executive Committee of the National Social Welfare Assembly, as secretary and member of the Executive Committee of the D.C. Health and Welfare Council, on the local and national committees of the United Service Organizations, and as a member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Catholic Interracial Council of Washington, the Urban League, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, League of Women Voters, and the American Association of University Women. Upon her death in 1980, she bequeathed $700,000 to The Catholic University of America in a trust fund established to support a professorial chair and student loan fund in the School of Education.

Papers consist of correspondence, financial records, publications, speeches, reports, newspaper clippings, and photographs, and provide a record of her family, professional, and social life, including her involvement in education, civic affairs, real estate, and business matters in Washington.

A finding aid for the Haynes-Lofton family papers can be found here.

Elliot Liebow Papers


Elliot Liebow (1925-1994) was an American anthropologist, best known for his 1967 book Tally's Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men, a study of Black men in urban Washington, D.C. The book, based on his 1966 Catholic University of America Department of Anthropology doctoral dissertation “Behavior and Values of Streetcorner Negro Men” sold nearly a million copies, and though dated today in its methodology, was influential in its time. Liebow also wrote Tell Them Who I Am, which is comprised of accounts of the everyday life of homeless women in Washington D.C. 

 

Liebow dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Marine Corps in December, 1942—about a month shy of his eighteenth birthday. He spent eighteen months serving on Palau, the Philippines, and other islands in the central and south Pacific before being honorably discharged in December 1945, having attained the rank of staff sergeant. He attended George Washington University on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1949 with a degree in English Literature. Liebow was chief of the Center for the Study of Work and Mental Health of the National Institute of Mental Health. Under his leadership, the center, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, financed research into issues like the democratization of the workplace, the quality of work life, women and welfare, and the relationship of work to mental health. Since 1990, he held the Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle Professorship at the National Catholic School for Social Service of the Catholic University of America. He died in 1994.

Series 3 of the collection, “Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men” contains research material related to his research for his dissertation and the book that followed. Boxes 7-12 contain the research materials, though due to restrictions, only boxes 11 and 12 are open for research. Box 11 contains the original manuscript of Tally's Corner and correspondence about the book, and box 12 consists of book reviews and publicity material (e.g., ads and ephemera).

There is no online finding aid for this collection, but you can contact staff at:  

lib-archives@cua.edu or 202-319-5065 for more information.

The National Office of Black Catholics, Records of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The National Office of Black Catholics Records are part of the Records of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the annual meeting of the American hierarchy and its standing secretariat. 

The Office of Black Catholics of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was established as part of the Cultural Diversity Office. These materials contain publications and records related to Black Catholic life in the U.S., including those related to diocesan level engagement in African American Catholic life, National Black Catholic Congresses in the late 1980s, meeting notes, letters, and articles from the Bishops’ Committee on African Americans, among others.

There is no online finding aid for this collection, but you can contact staff at:  

lib-archives@cua.edu or 202-319-5065 for more information.

Thomas Wyatt Turner and the Federated Colored Catholics (education resource website)

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.

The website can be found here.

The U.S. Bishops and Race in the Twentieth Century (education resource website)

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.

The website can be found here.

An African-American President in 1976? (education resource website)

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.

This website can be found here.