Authentically Black and Truly Catholic

The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration

288 pages

10 illustrations

November, 2017

ISBN: 9781479880966



Add to Cart Available: 10/20/2017

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Matthew J. Cressler is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the College of Charleston.

All books by Matthew J. Cressler

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.


  • "In Authentically Black and Truly Catholic, Matthew Cressler offers an original and insightful portrait of Chicago’s Black Catholics from the community’s 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

  • "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)

  • "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

  • "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

  • "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

  • "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