Explores the contentious debates among Black Catholics about the proper relationship between religious practice and racial identity
Chicago has been known as the Black Metropolis. But before the Great Migration, Chicago could have been called the Catholic Metropolis, with its skyline defined by parish spires as well as by industrial smoke stacks and skyscrapers. This book uncovers the intersection of the two. Authentically Black and Truly Catholic traces the developments within the church in Chicago to show how Black Catholic activists in the 1960s and 1970s made Black Catholicism as we know it today.
The sweep of the Great Migration brought many Black migrants face-to-face with white missionaries for the first time and transformed the religious landscape of the urban North. The hopes migrants had for their new home met with the desires of missionaries to convert entire neighborhoods. Missionaries and migrants forged fraught relationships with one another and tens of thousands of Black men and women became Catholic in the middle decades of the twentieth century as a result. These Black Catholic converts saved failing parishes by embracing relationships and ritual life that distinguished them from the evangelical churches proliferating around them. They praised the “quiet dignity” of the Latin Mass, while distancing themselves from the gospel choirs, altar calls, and shouts of “amen!” increasingly common in Black evangelical churches.
Their unique rituals and relationships came under intense scrutiny in the late 1960s, when a growing group of Black Catholic activists sparked a revolution in U.S. Catholicism. Inspired by both Black Power and Vatican II, they fought for the self-determination of Black parishes and the right to identify as both Black and Catholic. Faced with strong opposition from fellow Black Catholics, activists became missionaries of a sort as they sought to convert their coreligionists to a distinctively Black Catholicism. This book brings to light the complexities of these debates in what became one of the most significant Black Catholic communities in the country, changing the way we view the history of American Catholicism.
"Matthew J. Cressler’s groundbreaking Authentically Black and Truly Catholic sets out not only to explore the world of black Catholic Chicago, but also to participate in a larger efforts to rethink the stories we tell about American religion … If, for example, you did not already believe that Catholicism, “as with all things in America,” is “ineluctably entangled with race” (200), then you may finish this book mourning a little—but also closer to the truth than you were before." ~Study of American Catholicism at University of Notre Dame
"A fascinating, richly detailed social history of the black transformation of an American Catholicism that traditionally welcomed and nutured Catholic ethnic immigrants in America. In many ways the book is deceptively complex. It is at once a social history of black Catholics that vividly uses the words of those black migrants to describe their experiences in the church and their new surroundings. Yet the book is also an intellectual history of the role that American Catholicism played in the Great Migration, truly making readers rethink the major sociopolitical movements of the last century and the Catholic Church's role in shaping (and being shaped by) them. Cressler's work demonstrates that the presence of religion in African American and American history is crucial to our understanding of what America is." ~Journal of American History
"It is Cressler’s attention to the intersection of the Great Migrations and religion that is perhaps one of the work’s biggest contributions to researchers and teachers of the sociology of religion because he aptly demonstrates what the migrations meant to Catholicism, and Catholicism’s impact on those who had migrated. He takes painstaking effort to document how those migrations “changed religious life and culture across the country as Black and southern ways of being Christian were remade amidst the ‘exigencies of the city’”… Cressler reveals that interplay which ultimately led to an expansion of Black Catholic existence and ways of being. In doing so, he also welcomes us to reconsider the Great Migrations and broader understanding of their impact on the social and spiritual aspects of Black life. This work is a significant contribution to the historiographies of U.S. Catholicism, African American life and history, Black Power, and the Great Migrations." ~Sociology of Religion
"The author makes excellent arguments for black Catholic self-awareness, collected both through a canvas of the extant literature—much of which has lain fallow all these years—and in-person interviews … the nation’s three million black Catholics are a potent, if often neglected, source of strength for the Church, and Cressler’s volume does much to chronicle their struggle." ~Catholic Library World
"In Authentically Black and Truly Catholic, Matthew Cressler offers an original and insightful portrait of Chicagos Black Catholics from the communitys early years through the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements and sheds new light on the dynamic relationship between race and religion in twentieth-century America. With Chicago at the center of the broader story of a 'revolution in Black Catholic identity,' this well-researched and engaging study reveals the complexity and texture of Black Catholics religious lives and negotiations of what it meant to be committed to both Black solidarity and community life and to the Roman Catholic Church. Cressler advances the study of Black Catholic history in exciting ways and makes an invaluable contribution." ~Judith Weisenfeld,author of New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration
"Cressler’s book is an exciting read. Accessible to undergraduates, this book will prove a rewarding addition to a wide range of college courses, and its individual chapters could likewise stand alone for such purposes." ~Religion
"A significant contribution to understanding the context of black Catholics gravitation to Catholicism. It is a must read for scholars interested in black religious identity." ~Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion
"This book has the potential to promote important conversations about the historic relationships of black and white Catholics, about the status and experiences of black Catholics today, and about what is required to properly recover and interpret the deep and rich history of black Catholics in the United States." ~U.S. Catholic Magazine
"What remains clear from his retracing of nearly a century of Black Catholic history through the lens of the Chicago experience is that contemporary concerns of Black Catholics for ecclesial and civil justice and self-determination are a continuation of their long experience within the Catholic Church" ~US Catholic Historian
"Usually treatments of Black Catholics in the twentieth century situate them in relation to white people and prioritize the history of interracial activists in the civil rights movements. Historian Matthew J. Cressler’s Authentically Black and Truly Catholic considers Black Catholics on their own terms to explain how Black Catholics, by the 1980s, could practice distinctively Black ways of being Catholic … Cressler’s book is a tour de force." ~Review of Religious Research
"Previous work has largely conflated racial justice and interracial liberalism and this book examines how this view largely obscures the important lived experience and political and religious preferences of Black Catholics in Chicago there is little to fault in the analysis itself and this remarkable first book will be of interest to historians and sociologists of race and religion for many years to come." ~Catholic Books Review
"Matthew Cressler has penned a book that can be read by a wide audience. He provides integration and balance of both primary and secondary sources and provides an extensive bibliography for the reader. This study of black Catholics, an interdisciplinary endeavor, encompassed a variety of disciplinary fieds: religious studies, African American studies, Catholic studies, history, and postcolonial studies. This book has something to offer those interested in the emergence of black Catholicism and its legacy in the United States, particularly in Chicago; likewise, historians and researchers will value this books’ contributions to the growing body of scholarly research on black Catholics in the United States." ~American Catholic Studies
"Cressler’s work adds two new dimensions to histories of religion in the civil rights movement. He shows how ritual practice contributed to black migrants’ Catholic transformation and self-understanding, and then he demonstrates how that consciousness fused Black Power with black Catholicism in a rejection of liberal interracialist Catholicism." ~The Christian Century
"Authentically Black and Truly Catholic makes crucial contributions to wider scholarly conversations about 'Black religion' and 'the Black church,' the relationship between race and religion, and the history of Catholicism in the United States, as well as to other historical topics such as the Great Migration, Black Power, the urban North, and twentieth-century US history more generally." ~The Journal of Religion
"In Authentically Black and Truly Catholic, Matthew Cressler turns a spotlight on the efforts of Black Catholics to articulate and dramatize their faith in an idiom reflective of the spirituality and aesthetics nourished by their culture and explores the understudied influence of the rhetoric and aesthetics of Black Power on the 20th century reemergence of an active Black Catholic Movement. This work makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of diversity in the Catholic Church in the United States!" ~M. Shawn Copeland,editor of Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience, Orbis Books
"Cressler’s considerable achievement is to place African American Catholics at the center of the story, much more so than histories of race relations typically allow, and in this way he enriches standard accounts of both African American and Catholic history." ~American Historical Review