Life of trailblazing black Catholic journalist profiled in new book
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It only seems ironic that a new book that tells the story of Daniel Rudd, the black Catholic journalist of the late 19th century, has been written by someone who is not black, not Catholic and not a journalist.
But, like Rudd and his newspaper, the American Catholic Tribune, the Rev. Gary B. Agee sought answers to vexing questions about the nature of racial equality and how it can be achieved.
"I was working in my Church of God of Anderson, Ind. It's a small Protestant organization," said Rev. Agee in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service from his home in Eaton, Ohio, near Dayton.
"I was going to graduate school. I've been interested in (the topic of) race and the church. In our church, our primary charism is unity. But in my community we have parallel ministerial groups -- African-American churches in the Cincinnati district and ... essentially white churches" elsewhere in southwest Ohio, he said.
In his inquiry, Rev. Agee read "The History of Black Catholics in the United States," written by a black Benedictine priest, Father Cyprian Davis. In that book, Father Davis wrote about Rudd and his aspirations for equality in post-Civil War America, both in U.S. society and within the Catholic Church.
Pictured: Images here are from the cover of "A Cry for Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism, and Activism, 1854-1933" by the Rev. Gary B. Agee. The author profiles the life of Rudd, a trailblazer who was born in 1886 in Bardstown, Ky., to Catholic parents who were slaves. He was an enterprising local businessman and published the first black Catholic weekly newspaper in Cincinnati, the American Catholic Tribune. (CNS)
Mesmerized by what he read, Rev. Agee conducted voluminous research into Rudd's life. He read every edition of the American Catholic Tribune, which Rudd published between 1886 and 1897, still known to exist -- more than 250 issues.
From that came his biography, "A Cry for Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism, and Activism, 1854-1933." It was published in the fall by the University of Arkansas Press.
"I was fascinated by this guy," Rev. Agee said. "He was a prophetic voice calling its tradition to live up to its teaching: the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man -- a cardinal piece of Catholic teaching."
From reading each of the 256 copies of the American Catholic Tribune -- "My dissertation adviser told me I'm the only guy who ever read it, 'so read all of it to say that you've done it,' Rev. Agee said --
the author noted that Rudd was an optimist by nature, hoping that racial equality would come, but said "he wasn't naUltimately, the newspaper folded. Rev. Agee places the blame for that on what he called a misguided move from Cincinnati, where there were 14,000 black Catholics, to Detroit, where there were perhaps 2,000 -- and where another black newspaper had ceased publication not long before.
Publication may have been suspended to accommodate the move, but Rev. Agee told CNS he cannot be sure of this since, with several missing issues around the time of the move, there is no way to know when those issues were published. A national economic slowdown further hurt matters. Then there were the Jim Crow laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities, upheld by the Supreme Court's in its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which made it a far tougher task to gain equality.
Rev. Agee, who been teaching church history for a number of years at the Anderson University School of Theology as an adjunct faculty member, said some issues Rudd raised in the American Catholic Tribune find parallels today.
"The whole jobs thing, the whole African-Americans in education issue -- that's probably the best one to start with," he said. "We talk about the failing rates of many of our schools. Oftentimes minorities are forced to attend these schools by where they're residing. He editorialized about this. African-Americans deserve the opportunity to get an education, and he wrote about this.
"He even took to task Catholic leaders," Rev. Agee added, paraphrasing a common Rudd theme: "African-Americans can't get into Catholic schools in places like Washington, D.C., so what gives here?'"
Editor's Note: "A Cry for Justice" (256 pp.) retails for $39.95 and can be purchased through the University of Arkansas Press website, www.uapress.com, or from major online booksellers.
— Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
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