A scant half century ago, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel of New Orleans shocked the Christian community by proclaiming that segregation was sinful. Before then, the south had resisted the growing civil rights movement in the nation by pushing the movement that separate but equal facilities were alright.
But that wasn’t good enough for the archbishop. Being forced to ride in the back of a public transportation bus or attend a minority school wasn’t his idea of equality . . . or morality.
Many people in the south were furious at the archbishop’s efforts to end the practice of segregation and discrimination. But over the years, we have accepted them and made great headway in removing those obstacles to justice.
Two weeks ago, 50 years after Rummel’s far-reaching proclamation, his successor, Archbishop Alfred Hughes, issued an affirmation of that stand in another letter on racial harmony. In it, he admits that, being from Boston, he originally lived in a totally white community. It was not until he came to south Louisiana that he began to know African-Americans on a personal basis. Then he became conscious of the number of separate black church parishes.
He wondered if continuing them undermined racial integration. But he came to realize how important they were in the development of black Catholic identity, community, leadership, liturgy and spirituality. And he determined that though it was important to ensure that all parishes were open to everyone, that parishioners who preferred to remain in historically black parishes were given the opportunity to do so as well. But forced segregation is non-existent in most churches and other institutions today.
We’ve made many strides since Archbishop Rummel and, before him, Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, started the road to justice by pushing aside policies that brought about racial inequality. But we still have a ways to go if we are to finish the job of giving people of all colors equal opportunities.
Now today, 50 years after Rummel’s declaration of segregation as sinful, it is time to renew that dedication to rid the world of the prejudices that have brought about the immoral belief that men are not equal. It is time to move forward and end racial prejudice forever.