“Catholicism’s Role in the Lives of African Americans: From Civil Rights to Today”

Samford University 2020 graduate Emma Welch was the national runner-up for the 2020 Albert Clark Award from Theta Alpha Kappa: The National Honor Society for Theology and Religious Studies. Her winning essay has now been published: “Catholicism’s Role in the Lives of African Americans: From Civil Rights to Today,” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 45, no. 1 (Spring 2021): 13-30. It begins

Religion has been vital in shaping the culture of the United States since the onset of colonization. In fact, the religion of our forefathers was integral in crafting today’s societal principles. However, this does not mean that the roles of religion had universal
effects on society. Religion’s volatility is seen throughout history, as is the case for the complexity of its role in the civil rights movement. Often, Protestantism is at the forefront of these topics. However, this essay aims to focus on the differing views and roles of the Catholic Church on the civil rights movement, specifically in Birmingham, Alabama. As a result of this study, one may gain a fuller understanding of the experience of African-American Catholics during the civil rights movement and how the Catholic Church can better advocate for and serve the African-American community within the Birmingham
area today.

Full text is available through the ATLA Religion Database at many libraries. Samford University affiliates can access it directly here.

Given her focus on Birmingham, Our Lady of Fatima Church, figures prominently in the essay. The parish was established by Josephite priests (Society of Saint Joseph) as Immaculate Conception in 1905. You can learn much more about the parish’s history on its website.

Welch’s project grew out of the urban religion seminar I taught which began the semester studying Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood and produced a suite of essays on that neighborhood for Magic City Religion, a digital humanities project on religion in Birmingham which I edit.

The Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, bishop of Birmingham in Alabama, with others at Our Lady of Fatima’s 110th anniversary celebration. Photo from parish website.

Emma Welch is now entering her second year of graduate studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama.

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