February 5, 2021

Pastoral Ministries / Pearlette Springer

A reflection on Black history and Catholicism

Pearlette SpringerThe celebration of Black History Month began as a way to address the small amount of information taught in the classroom regarding African Americans.

Beginning in 1926, the second week of February was designated Negro History Week by scholar G. Carter Woodson, who co-founded what was then called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Starting in the 1940s, African Americans advocated for the addition of Black history to the history books. This advocacy for Black history included many African Americans researching, documenting and writing Black history books themselves.

In 1970, African American professors at Kent State University in Ohio began celebrating Black History from Jan. 2 to Feb. 28. This celebration slowly spread to other colleges and universities in the United States. Finally, in 1976, the United States recognized the month of February as Black History Month. Today, Black History Month is celebrated in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland.

What does Black history have to do with Catholics and the Catholic Church? It is difficult to talk about Christian or Catholic history, or U.S., Mexican, Canadian, European, Central American or South American history without acknowledging the history of the people of African descent, Black history. Yet, it is done every day.

Black history begins with creation. Science says that humans, as we know them today, evolved from Africa. Science named her Eve. The Book of Genesis says that humans were made in the image and likeness of God. God called them Adam and Eve. These humans, created in the image of God, include the descendants of people from seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America.

Before I continue, I must make the disclaimer that I am not a biblical scholar. My background is in African/African American Studies, Theology, Philosophy, and the Human and Social Sciences. Biblical scholars learn the language, the context, and understand the content of scripture. Me? I just read, reflect and embrace Scripture.

Some biblical scholars point toward the Book of Genesis and Ham’s story as the first mention of Blacks in Scripture. Other biblical scholars say that the term “Ethiopian” is Greek for people with dark skin. It is also rumored that Solomon, the son of David, in the ancestry line of Jesus Christ, was dark-skinned with long, tightly curled hair. In other words, Black.

I point to chapter 1 of the Song of Songs, where the writer states, “I am black and beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Qedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am so black, because the sun has burned me. The sons of my mother were angry with me; they charged me with the care of the vineyards: my own vineyard I did not take care of” (Sg 1:5-6).

When I talk about Black history and Catholicism, I point to Hosea: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1).

Or I point to the Gospel of Matthew: “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt” (Mt 2:14).

Or I look to the Acts of the Apostles: “We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene” (Acts 2:9-10).

Or, “Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch … seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. … Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:27-28, 38).

In other words, the history of people of African descent, the history of Black people, the history of African Americans is entwined in the history of Catholicism.

We can’t talk authentically about Catholicism without including people of African descent. We can’t celebrate Black History Month without acknowledging who we are as Catholics.

DeColores! “In colors!”

(Pearlette Springer is the coordinator of Black Catholic Ministry in the archdiocese. She can be reached at pspringer@archindy.org.)

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