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If something was going on in Chicago in the mid-twentieth century related to racial justice, chances are, Dr. Arthur Falls knew about it. Arthur Falls was a black Catholic medical doctor who devoted his life to achieving racial justice. He held leadership positions in the Federated Colored Catholics and the Chicago Urban League, advised the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Equality, and founded the Chicago branch of the Catholic Worker. Arthur and his wife, Lillian Proctor Falls, integrated the all-white suburb of Western [End Page 96] Springs in 1952, and in 1961, after pursuing other avenues to integrate Chicago’s hospitals, Falls and nine other doctors sued corporations owning Chicago hospitals to gain admission to the hospital staffs.
Falls practiced a multifaceted approach to racial justice. He believed that interracial partnerships alone would make his beloved Catholic Church – and the nation – live up to the high calling of racial justice. Drawing strength from the church’s teaching on the mystical body of Christ, Falls argued that racism was a sin and that Christians must demonstrate their discipleship by countering the world’s wisdom of segregation and discrimination. Yet he was a member of a church that too often embodied racism, from archbishops to school children. Falls, though, did not give up hope and insisted that African Americans must be militant, partner with white people, and utilize insights from the social sciences to achieve racial justice.
Although Falls was a significant figure in his time, today he is relatively unknown. Moral theologian Lincoln Rice, however, has brought Falls back to the table by laying out the chronology of Falls’s life and analyzing Falls’s thought and writing. As a historian, I wanted Rice to embed Falls more in his historical context and account, in particular, for some of Falls’s class biases. Nonetheless, Rice has made a significant contribution. Rice discovered Falls’s six-hundred page typed memoir manuscript, complete with Falls’s hand-written edits, and then filled in other aspects of Falls’s life by relentlessly tracking Falls through numerous archives. Falls’s memoir and Rice’s annotated bibliography of sources related to Falls are great windows into numerous aspects of black Catholic life and will benefit many researchers.
Rice’s historical work on Falls is the basis for his theological work of developing a new understanding of Catholic racial justice. Situating himself among both Catholic as well as non-Catholic theologians who draw on African Americans’ experiences to deepen “our comprehension of the mysteries of the Christian faith” and to create effective solutions to achieve racial justice (30), Rice contends that a Catholic theory of racial justice is illegitimate if it does not employ black sources or focus on African Americans’ agency. As Rice shows, however, most Catholic resources for racial justice, including the majority of the bishops’ statements, neither listen to minorities’ voices nor suggest that the oppressed have any role to play in their own liberation. Instead, they mostly imply that white people ought to be more civil in their treatment of African Americans, a solution that depends on moral suasion and hardly accounts for the systemic nature of racism. Rice, based on Falls’s praxis and theology, offers a different answer. [End Page 97]
Rice argues that Catholic racial justice ought to be “an organized struggle for the realization of the mystical body of Christ in the context of racial injustice in our society and within our Church” (148). Rice pushes Falls’s analysis of racism further, arguing that the sin of racism is a heresy because it attacks the church’s integrity and compromises the Christian faith. Rice suggests that Catholics concerned with racial justice, and especially the oppressed, ought to model themselves on Falls and remain in the church despite “frustration and constant rejection” (144). The tension can be resolved, Rice says, through active, organized struggle. Rice concludes by describing three virtues that the oppressed and those who identify with the oppressed should practice...