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  • Desegregating Dixie: The Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945–1992 by Mark Newman
  • James F. Garneau
Desegregating Dixie: The Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945–1992. By Mark Newman. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 2018. Pp. xxviii, 455. $30.00 paperback.. ISBN 978-1-4968-1896-6.)

Mark Newman, who received his doctorate from the University of Mississippi and has published extensively on the U.S. Civil Rights movements and desegregation in the American South in the twentieth century, is currently a reader in history at the University of Edinburgh. Many of his numerous published articles have explored the complicated relationships of Southern Baptist communities and organizations and Catholic individuals and organizations, especially dioceses, to these movements. This volume incorporates much of this previously published research and more.

The author has done extensive archival research as well as first-hand interviews with a variety of sources. There are 112 pages of endnotes, a 21-page selected bibliography, an excellent index, and five helpful appendices. I do think that a map of the South, indicating the dioceses studied, would have been a welcome addition. But in its totality, even where some of the information has previously been published, this volume is a helpful and important tool both for the interested reader and the scholar. Moreover, Newman’s research opens the door to more studies, on local, regional, and national levels.

Newman posits that though often perceived as a monolithic structure, the Catholic Church in the South in fact consisted of a variety of attitudes toward the impulse to desegregate, within the clergy (both high and lower) as well as white and black Southerners, including hardline Catholic segregationists and more radical social progressives. Though the bishops were pushed by the Holy See toward social justice and the ordination of black candidates for the priesthood, he convincingly shows that most of them responded slowly, awaiting social and political change in the regions to which they were assigned. There were exceptions, such as Bishop Vincent Waters in the Diocese of Raleigh, whose approach did not always wait for broader political or social acceptance, but at the same time might be described as gradualist in nature. Newman also studies the consequences of desegregation, both intended and unintended, including the loss of local community and institutional commitment on the part of many African American Catholics in the South that resulted from “integration.”

The book is organized both chronologically and thematically, though it is not clear why 1992 was selected as a point of termination. The introduction is a broad summary of the Catholic Church and its relations to African Americans in the South and in the nation until 1945. This history is, of course, explored in more depth elsewhere, but I think that mention of the classical justification for the enslavement of peoples by Francis P. Kenrick as well as the Holy See’s censure of Bishop Auguste M. Martin’s pastoral letter of 1861 to the Catholics of Natchitoches (in defense of slavery) would be helpful, even in a cursory review. [End Page 765]

Dr. Newman is to be especially commended for his analysis of the questions at hand through the lens of theological influences. He rightfully notes the Holy See’s embrace of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, especially during the ponti ficate of Pius XII, as a cause and justi fication for the initiatives and pressure of the Holy See on the American hierarchy. It might also be worth noting the encyclicals of Benedict XV, Maximum Illud (1919), and of Pius XI, Rerum Ecclesiae (1926), which called for the ordination of indigenous clergy and the appointment of native bishops for mission lands. Clearly, the Holy See saw the African American in the South as part of this missiological perspective, however uncomfortable that might have been to many American prelates.

This volume covers much terrain, admirably. Perhaps because of the books large chronological scope, the last years might appear more lightly treated. Newman correctly notes the perceived loss of interest in interracial relations within many Church circles following the 1960s, but he makes no reference in his study to the impact of the Viet Nam...


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