An inventory of the Catholic Committee of the South (CCS) Collection at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Although the Catholic Committee of the South Collection mainly documents the period after the organization's resurrection in 1981, the history of the CCS goes back to its original founding in 1939.
The brainchild of layman Paul D. Williams, the CCS was conceived as a means of "effecting social change in the modern South through the use of religions principles." Born in Richmond, VA, Williams developed a personal interest in the social problems of the South on the heels of two major contemporary studies of the region: Professor Howard Odum's 1936 Southern Regions of the United States, and President Roosevelt's 1938 Conference on Economic Conditions in the South, both of which decried the poverty, illiteracy and overall waste of economic potential in the Depression-era South. While many regional organizations were already working to ameliorate these conditions, Williams believed that they were failing to appreciate the "close tie-up between economics and moral principles." In this way, he envisioned an organization of Southern Catholics committed to social action to discover the causes of "'poverty and powerlessness,'" and to work towards solutions.
With the help of Georgia native Father T. James McNamara, and Bishop Gerald P. O'Hara of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta, Williams succeeded in having a Southern program included in the 1939 National Catholic Social Action Congress. At the conference Bishop O'Hara sought to galvanize Southern Catholics, declaring that "'You have heard President Roosevelt say the South is the country's No. 1 economic problem. Let me say that the South is the country's No. 1 religious opportunity.'" And on the heels of the NCSAC, the CCS was born.
The work of the original CCS can be seen most clearly in its ten conventions, held from 1940-1953, at which the six departments of the Committee "confronted key southern problems and offered often unpopular remedies." Of these six departments, Education, Youth, Lay Apostolate, Rural Life, Industrial Relations and Racial Relations, the latter two were the most active, thus cementing the Committee's liberal position against segregation and for the rights of organized labor. The ten conventions were attended by whites and blacks alike, even though integrated meetings of this kind were illegal throughout much of the South.
But although the CCS could point towards much success in its first decade, such as helping labor organizations, mediating strikes and hosting a regional summer school, the original CCS was all but defunct by 1956. Pressures of the Cold War aversion to organized labor and integration, combined with the advent of the Civil Rights movement, lead most directly to organization's demise. Fearing political backlash, the Bishops involved with CCS chose the protection of their Parishes over further political action, and the organization withered.
No "expiration date" exists for the original CCS; the organization lay more or less dormant between the late 1950s and the beginning of the 1980s. But by that time it was clear that Church workers and those working for social justice in the South wanted to revitalize the CCS as a forum for furthering their shared struggle. So in November of 1981 the Glenmary Commission on Justice organized the first Gathering of the new CCS in Cullman, AL, and the organization was officially re-founded. Re-imagined as a "network of people across the South who are committed to solidarity with the oppressed poor," the new CCS connected Bishops, Church leaders, field workers and grassroots organizations across the South. CCS literature of the time describes the network's function as providing a forum where "patterns of injustice and causal connections are clarified, solidarity is strengthened, communication is facilitated, potentials for constructive change are discerned, action for justice is fostered, [and] the voice of the poor is heard and heeded."
Much like that of the original CCS, the work of the CCS beginning in the 1980s shines through mostly in its Gatherings, held annually starting in 1981. The purpose of the Gatherings, as described in CCS literature, was "to provide a people's forum for folks from the struggle across the South, to share testimony, hopes and dreams, to reflect on the meaning of the struggle from a faith perspective, and [to stand] in solidarity with the oppressed." The Gatherings generally took place in a different Southern city each year, and consisted of testimonials from grassroots organizations and others in the struggle, as well as cultural events showcasing the diverse cultures of its participants. The network that these gatherings fostered worked together on various campaigns throughout the organization's existence, including prisoner advocacy and labor solidarity.
In addition to its annual gatherings and activism, the CCS also worked on problems of racism, poverty and economic injustice together with Connective Ministries (CM), a network similarly organized "to heal the wounds of racism, economic injustice and sexism." In addition to hosting its own yearly gathering, called the "Mission Roundtable," CM was also responsible for facilitating programs and events on behalf of the CCS. These included the "Walk Together" program, whose goal was to help participants "see ministry from a cross-cultural perspective" by developing strategies to combat racism and oppression in the Church's work, and the "Taste and See" program, which allowed young adults to live and work in Southern black or Appalachian communities. CM also conducted hearings on poverty in towns across the South and Appalachia, compiling testimony of the poor, unemployed and disabled into reports to be considered for the 1986 U.S. Catholic Bishop's pastoral letter, "Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy." In all, it is clear that much of the CCS's work was made possible only by the efforts of CM, and that the partnership helped both organizations to reach their goals.
But after nearly a decade of work by the revitalized CCS, it became clear to those involved that, however productive and inspiring the annual Gatherings were, more was needed. In this way, the African American Caucus of the CCS was organized to provide a "continuing forum…to serve as a bridge between those in grassroots struggles and those sent into the region by the Churches." Chaired from its inception by Professor Michael Washington, director of African American Studies at North Kentucky University, the AAC organized annual "roundtables" at which people of various cultural backgrounds came together to discuss "difficult issues of mission and cross-cultural presence," in order that the Southern Church could learn to better serve communities of color. The AAC, in conjunction with the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, also offered an intensive, three-day "Undoing Racism" workshop for church workers and progressive grassroots organizations.
Even with its nearly 30 year hiatus, the CCS has cemented itself as part of the history of Southern Catholic activism. It must too be considered in the history of those still fighting against racism and poverty since the 1980s. Through their annual gatherings, workshops, reports and solidarity on behalf of the poor, imprisoned and oppressed, the CCS, African American Caucus and Connective Ministries provided a forum where the voice of struggling communities could be heard.
The Catholic Committee of the South collection consists of four series documenting the history and work of the Committee itself since its re-founding in 1981, as well as that of its African American Caucus, and the affiliated organization Connective Ministries.
Series 1, African American Caucus, 1990-2002 (box 1) contains materials produced by the African American Caucus of the Catholic Committee of the South, organized in 1991 to serve as a continuing forum for the work of the Committee. Included are materials from the Caucus' annual "roundtables," including outreach materials, reports, participant lists and pamphlets. Also included is correspondence, mainly with the Bishops Advisory Committee, Glenmary Home Missioners, and various grassroots organizations, spanning from 1990-1994 and 2002. There are also printed materials describing the Caucus' history and function, internal memos, and materials from the Caucus' "Undoing Racism" workshop and Task Force on Racism and Cultural Diversity.
Series 2, Connective Ministries, 1984-1996 (box 1) contains materials produced in the organization's own work as well as its work done on behalf of the Catholic Committee of the South. Included are annual reports, correspondence, and the organization's "Connections" newsletter for 1990-1996. Also included are reports from CM's 1985 hearings on poverty, documenting the testimony of poor, unemployed and disabled people in the South telling their stories, which were then sent to the Bishops composing the 1986 U.S. Catholic Bishop's pastoral letter, "Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy." Rounding our Series 2 are materials from Connective Ministries' "Walk Together" program, including itineraries, participant lists and outreach materials.
Series 3, General, 1978-2008 (boxes 2-3) more directly documents the work of the Catholic Committee of the South itself. Contained in the series are internal reports, meeting minutes, mailing lists, and correspondence from 1982-2008.. Also included are pamphlets, reports and outreach materials from the Committee's annual gatherings, the "Connections" newsletter for 1998-2000, and materials from the Committee's work on prisons, crime, and labor issues. There are also materials chronicling the founding and early history of the Committee, including a1978 masters thesis titled "Region, Religion and Social Action: The Catholic Committee of the South, 1939-1956." Completing the series are numerous articles on racism, liberation theology, poverty and Christianity; many pertaining directly to the Southern experience.
Series 4, Photographs, 1970s-1999 (boxes 3-4) provides a visual look into the meetings, gatherings, festivals, conferences, forums and programs that made up the bulk of the work of the Catholic Committee of the South, African American Caucus and Connective Ministries. Most of the photographs seem to be snapshots taken by participants in the various events. Included are both black and white and color prints, ranging in size from roughly 2.5x2.5" up through 6x8", as well as a few sets of negatives. Of particular note are many beautiful photographs taken during the Committee's 1992 "Trail of Tears Walk," sponsored by Echoes of the People in order to "honor the ancestors who died on the trail and to thank the elders who pass the ways on to their descendants."
The Catholic Committee of the South Collection consists of four series:
Restrictions on Access
Donated by Mary Prinski in February 2009.
Processing completed in May 2011 by Lauren Kanne. EAD markup completed in August 2011 by Lauren Kanne and Andrew Sherlock.
American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives:
Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans:
Catholic Committee of the South Records
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Gerald P. O'Hara
Michael A. Washington
Paul D. Williams
T. James McNamara
African American Caucus
Glenmary Home Missioners
The Catholic Committee of the South
The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond
Anderson, South Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina
New Orleans, Louisiana
Catholic Social Work
Southern United States
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