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Reflections for the 50th Anniversary Mass in Honor of the Selma to Montgomery March

by Fr. Manuel Williams, CR

At some point 50 years ago in the midst of that arduous and dangerous journey from Selma to Montgomery the marchers must have sung: We’re marching, marching, marching to beautiful Zion We’re marching onward to Zion, the beautiful City of God. (more)

Straddling History and Hope in Selma

by Ralph McCloud

Selma represented a turning point in the march towards justice, and Catholic had a role then, just as they do today. Read Catholic Campaign for Human Development director Ralph McCloud's refection on his journey to Selma on Justice, Peace and Human Development's blog To Go Forth.

How the Civil Rights Movement Influenced U.S. Immigration Policy

By Todd Scribner

Standing before Congress on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson delivered his State of the Union Address. Here he called for the abolition of all forms of racial discrimination—calls that anticipated the passage of the Civil Rights Act some six months later—and committed his Administration to “lifting by legislation the bars of discrimination against those who seek entry into our country.” Americans often think of civil rights legislation of the following years as being only pertinent to the African American community, but it in fact had important implications for the formation of migration policy. (more)

Fifty Years Since Historic Civil Rights Legislation: There Are No “Minority” Americans

By The Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., STD

Fifty years since historic Civil Rights Legislation there should be no “Minority” Americans. Are there really “minority” Americans and “minority” Catholics?  I have never used this term in reference or to any group of American citizens or American Catholics.  I believe it is erroneous and counter-productive.  If we think carefully about what it means to be an American and to be a Catholic, we can see why these are questionable expressions. (more)

The Glories of the Past and the Hopes of Tomorrow

By Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory

Our nation is in the midst of observing a series of uniquely important historic moments that mark the 50th or 60th anniversaries of the Civil Rights movement.  Last year we recalled the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, this year we marked the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. the Board of Education that outlawed school segregation, and soon we will recall the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. (more)

My Transformative Experiences Growing Up in the Civil Rights Era

By Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN

Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut as an African American young teenager in the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s was exciting and challenging. The impact of institutional racism was felt daily in the Elm Haven Projects where we saw people of color struggle to meet basic human needs... (more)

Pax Christi USA Continues the Vision of the Civil Rights Era

By Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN

As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the modern Civil Rights era, Pax Christi USA, (PCUSA), the national Catholic peace and justice movement, continues its commitment to confront the evil of racism and all forms of oppression, as we witness to the Gospel call of nonviolence and peace with justice... (more)

Poetry in the Civil Rights Era

By Angela Redmond-Theodore

In an interview for the PBS News Hour’s “Where Poetry Lives” series, U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey said that “A commitment to social justice always undergirds my poems.” This could stand as the mission statement for all artists, including African American writers, who have put words to our society’s deepest longings and highest calling... (more)

What Must Never Be Forgotten

By Shannen D. Williams, PhD

As I reflect on the realities of institutional racism, sexism and economic inequality on this fiftieth anniversary year of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I wonder about the role the Catholic Church will play in America’s moral future... (more)

50 Years Ago...

50 years ago…The first episode of the game show Jeopardy aired and Freedom Summer brought 1000 activists by bus to Mississippi to help African Americans exercise their rights and duties as citizens.  What’s the winning question today?  

50 years ago…The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party formed to challenge the all-white official Democratic party.  Its delegates attended the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City NJ, until they were forcibly removed.  Is the right to vote secure today?

50 years ago…Baby boomers enjoyed watching Bewitched, The Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  On television they also watched police dogs, fire hoses and billy clubs beat back their fellow citizens seeking the right to vote and equal opportunity for employment, housing and education.  Which made a bigger impact on your life?

The African American Affairs’ 50th Anniversary Initiative provides a platform for probing the impact of this historic moment on African American Catholics, the Church and U.S. society today.  For a quick look back, view the Catholic News Service video, Equality for All:  Catholic Reflections on the Civil Rights Act.  

More food for thought is available in America Magazine.  See the July 7-14, 2014 issue (Reference Vol. 211 No. 1; Whole No. 5055).  Read reflections of African American Catholics on the theme, “Black and Catholic:  On Race, Faith and Freedom.”  Share your own reflections on USCCB Facebook and Twitter

Connecting to the Past:
Remembering Freedom Summer

Cultural Diversity launches the 50th Anniversary Initiative in June 2014, by remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer.  In the Diocese of Jackson MS, a conference on June 24 – 29, 2014 provides an opportunity to learn about and better understand Freedom Summer and the Freedom School movement.  We invite you to mark this historic moment.  Listen to the voices of those who participated 50 years ago and reflect on the significance of those experiences today. Recognize and if necessary, recommit to understanding citizenship – it’s rights and responsibilities

About a year and a half later, Vatican II opened windows and doors within the Catholic Church to receive the fresh breath of God through inspired words including these:

“Obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good, according to his own abilities and the needs of others, also promotes and assists the public and private institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.”

  – (#30 Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World)

Through this same spirit of brotherhood, in June of 1964, hundreds of activists of different races and denominations from the Northeast who crossed the Mason-Dixon Line by bus to help African Americans register to vote in Mississippi.  The project also established dozens of Freedom Schools that provided classes in citizenship and other related topics.  Freedom Summer, as we now know it, accelerated the movement toward racial justice in the United States.

Three years prior, in the Spring of 1961, Freedom Riders tested the waters of desegregation on bus trips from Washington DC to New Orleans LA.  In ways that are difficult to imagine today, all of the Freedom Rides and other voter registration efforts were perilous, unprecedented and caught many Americans by surprise.  Resulting beatings, bombings and deaths raised the nation’s consciousness about the realities of segregation and terror of Jim Crow policies around the country.

Fast forward to May 2011 when 40 college students joined several original Freedom Riders in retracing the 1961 Freedom Rides.  Among them was Karl Kumodzi, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s 2012 Cardinal Bernardin Award winner.  View Karl’s statement and meet the other riders from every region of the country.

Dr. Robert P. (Bob) Moses, an architect of the Freedom Summer project in Mississippi, recently spoke at the opening of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History exhibit, “Stand Up!:  Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964.”

There a numerous other observances and chances to learn more.