The South's Tolerable Alien: Roman Catholics in Alabama and Georgia, 1945-1970.
The study of Roman Catholicism in the American South is a rather small field of study, due in large part to the contention that white evangelical Protestants have dominated the cultural features of the region since the early nineteenth century. Many of those historians who have tried to understand the religious identities of "outsiders" in the South have depicted southern Catholics as cultural captives of a decidedly Protestant place. Andrew Moore, assistant professor of history at Saint Anselm College, complicates the "cultural captivity" thesis in two important ways. First, he highlights the racial and religious differences within Catholic communities in Alabama and Georgia during the twentieth century. Second, he demonstrates how white and black Catholics resisted and embraced the segregationist tradition of the Deep South. In doing so, The South's Tolerable Alien provides historians with an insightful rendering of the lives of southern Catholics in light of the radical social changes that came out of the civil rights movement and the Second Vatican Council.
Moore begins his study by asking "how [could Catholics] be both good Catholics and good citizens in a region that was divided by race and defined by at least nominal adherence to a variety of Protestant denominations?" (1). He attempts to answer this question by making three interrelated arguments. First, Moore identifies religious boundaries in the American South that situated Catholics at the margins of a "southern mainstream" (2). Anti-Catholicism was the primary vehicle of marginalization. Second, it was not until the civil rights movement that white Protestants and white Catholics were able to create a state of religious pluralism based on the preservation of white supremacy. And, third, the willingness of white Catholics to defend the racial status quo created public venues of ecumenism that rivaled, if they did not exceed, the goals of the Second Vatican Council. In fact, it was the pre-Vatican II traditions of social conservatism and hierarchy that allowed some white Catholics to defend racial segregation.
Moore devotes the first two chapters to the ways in which southern Catholics encountered anti-Catholic sentiment and collectively responded to such prejudices. In chapter 1, "The Intolerable Alien: Catholics as 'Other' in the South," Moore describes anti-Catholicism as a source of unification helping Protestants transcend denominational and regional differences. Theological, cultural, and political forms of anti-Catholicism linked Catholicism with communism, totalitarianism, and anti-Americanism. In chapter 2, "A Group Apart: Sacred Space and Catholic Identity at Mid-Century," Moore demonstrates how Catholics contested their marginal status by performing their sacred religion in public. In doing so, "their Roman Catholicism bound them into a subculture and forced them to negotiate boundaries between their Catholic identity and southern culture" (51). Moore makes this point most clearly by focusing on Catholics attempting to define themselves as anticommunist patriots during public religious celebrations.
The final four chapters represent Moore's most significant contribution to the study of Catholics in the South. In them, Moore juxtaposes the liberal and conservative mandates of bishops in Atlanta, Mobile, and Birmingham on the issue of integration, and the multiplicity of responses made by white and black Catholics in the face of such episcopal maneuvers. The interracial activism of Father Albert Foley, a Jesuit priest based at Spring Hill College in Mobile, is the subject of chapter 3, wherein Moore describes how white Catholics in Alabama resisted the attempts of "radical" Catholic priests to disrupt the southern racial order. Chapter 4, "Practicing What We Preach," and chapter 5, "Not Practicing What We Preach," provide Moore with an opportunity to compare the bishoprics of Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta and Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen of Mobile-Birmingham. In Atlanta, under the leadership of Hallinan, Moore contends that "the civil rights movement jolted Catholics out of their insular world and forced an awareness that Church doctrine could be applied to society at large" (91). Moore is much less generous in his characterization of Toolen in Alabama, whose "defensive posture reveals how blind he was to the social plight of African Americans and the pressure he was under to use his authority to bring about racial reform" (115).
To his credit, Moore does not end his analysis with the institutional politics of bishops and priests. Instead, he provides an illuminating picture of how white and black laypeople wrestled with the changing attitudes of their religious leaders and the changing social order of the South. He uses newspaper editorials and letters sent to bishops in an effort to demonstrate the ambiguity, resistance, and support of lay Catholics on issues of racial justice. He is careful not to categorize all Alabama Catholics as segregationists and all Georgia Catholics as integrationists, choosing instead to highlight the collective disorder that so permeated the biracial communities of Catholics in both states. Furthermore, as is made evident in his final chapter, the destabilizing effects of the civil rights movement and the Second Vatican Council had a way of empowering both segregationist and integrationist Catholics to undermine the traditional authority of church leaders.
By focusing on the process by which white Catholics became "tolerable aliens" in the South, Moore leaves open some more questions about the status of black Catholics in the South, who arguably remained "intolerable aliens." The tidiness of his conclusion might also be seen as an opportunity for further study of what happened "after" the civil rights movement, since, according to Moore, by the 1970s, "those disgruntled with racial and liturgical reform became the outsiders from the mainstream Church, while insiders in white southern society" (162). These points of departure add value to Moore's larger contribution to the study of race, religion, and region. His clarity of prose and presentation of ideas make The South's Tolerable Alien an excellent addition to college courses on religion in the United States, as well as an important reminder that conservatism is often just as much a part of ecumenical dialogue as progressivism.
Florida State University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2007|
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