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Rebuilding the Bridge: African American Affairs’ 50th Anniversary Initiative


What do you think?
Share your thoughts/answers to this or any of the questions below on USCCB Facebook and Twitter.

How might the Freedom Summer project of the Civil Rights era speak to us today as Catholics and faithful citizens?  

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.

About This Project

50 Years Ago in his encyclical to The Clergy And Faithful of the Whole World and To All Men of Good Will, Pope St. John XXIII declared:
“When the relations of human society are expressed in terms of rights and duties, men become conscious of spiritual values, understand the meaning and significance of truth, justice, charity and freedom, and become deeply aware that they belong to this world of values.  Moreover, when moved by such concerns, they are brought to a better knowledge of the true God Who is personal and transcendent, and thus they make the ties that bind them to God the solid foundation and supreme criterion of their lives, both that of life which they live interiorly in the depths of their own souls and of that in which they are united to other men in society.” 

#45 Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), April 11, 1963 

A half century ago immersed in a massive social movement, Americans awakened to pleas for justice, civil rights, human rights and the eradication of racism.  At home and abroad those who were “less fortunate” sought relief from unjust systems of oppression, discrimination and colonial status.  In recognition of that critical moment, the USCCB will encourage the Catholic community to rediscover this slice of history through the prism of the Church’s involvement at the time and within the current social context.  From June 2014 through 2015, we will examine how the lessons and legacy of the civil rights era continue to shape us today as Catholics and faithful citizens.  Bookmark this page, share it with your friends and return often for guest commentaries on the USCCB Blog, a calendar of events, prayer and catechetical resources, video clips, practical ideas for engaging the Catholic community and much more.

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 Kudodzi, 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.

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