Daniel A. Rudd: Civil Rights Leader and Black Catholic Lay Animator
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Daniel A. Rudd:
Civil Rights Leader and Black Catholic Lay Animator

Daniel Arthur Rudd was a remarkable and gifted black Catholic layman who was an activist, advocate of his race and his church, editor and publisher of the news weekly, the American Catholic Tribune, and founder of the Black Catholic Congress Movement. Born in 1854, one century before the historic Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, and eleven years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Rudd possessed an astute and incisive consciousness and belief in his status as a child of God, a member of the Catholic Church, and a citizen of the United States.1 Born into slavery and raised in Bardstown, Kentucky, Rudd was well versed in the Catholic faith. He also knew how to successfully navigate within two segregated communities.

In 1866, when Rudd was a child of twelve and pursuing his secondary education in Springfield, Illinois, the United States bishops gathered in Baltimore to consider the spiritual welfare of the newly emancipated slaves. The Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda had expressed its wish that the bishops develop a pastoral plan to care for the formerly enslaved. A number of the bishops were unwilling to come to a consensus regarding why these black citizens even needed special care at this time. Thus, no such pastoral plan for the evangelization of former slaves was developed, and it was determined that those bishops with former slaves in their diocese would decide [End Page 105] how to handle this situation after the close of the Plenary Council.2 The young Daniel Rudd could never have imagined that during his adult life he would begin grassroots efforts to attend to the spiritual needs of black Catholics and invite other black Catholics to do the same.

Passionate, focused, gifted, and politically savvy, Daniel A. Rudd would leave his mark on United States Catholicism in many ways. His newspaper, the American Catholic Tribune,3 and his brainchild, the Colored Catholic Congresses, along with his lecturing, would be his platform for affirming the civil rights of the black community, celebrating the gifts of nature and grace that God had given them, and proclaiming the Catholic Church as the best church home for black Americans.

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Daniel A. Rudd

Courtesy of the National Black Catholic Congress.

Early Years

Born into slavery on August 7, 1854, Daniel Rudd began his life in Bardstown, Kentucky. His parents, Robert and Elizabeth, were Catholic and raised their twelve children in the faith. According to Daniel Rudd’s own words, he also learned about Catholicism from [End Page 106] Jesuit Reverend John S. Verdin who was stationed at the local St. Joseph Parish from 1860–1869. In an October 13, 1888 edition of the ACT, Rudd wrote about a visit to St. Louis when he visited Verdin, “our old teacher.” Rudd also noted that his visit with Verdin “seemed like childhood days again when in Bardstown at old St. Joseph’s we received words of counsel and listened to his matchless oratory.”4 While the specifics of Rudd’s further religious education and training are unknown, what is clear is that Rudd was a gifted student who had fine educational opportunities that he used to develop a deep understanding of the Catholic faith.

Rudd’s formal religious education was important and formative, but so was his experience while a child at St. Joseph Church. Rudd states that he was baptized at the same font as all those being welcomed into the church, and that at the time of his reception of First Penance, First Communion, and Confirmation the black and white children intermingled without difficulty. This is where Rudd may have initially experienced himself as a child of God among other children of God.5 He was entitled to all the benefits and rights linked with membership in the Catholic Church. Even though Rudd’s words about his sacramental experiences at St. Joseph may be characterized by the hyperbole that marked nineteenth-century writing, his identity formation as a Catholic and as a citizen of the United States was strong and deep. Imbued with this understanding, Rudd was...