A Kneeling Racist and an Upright Archbishop

On April 16, after a long period of negotiations with leading conservative segregationists of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, several of whom backed down from their opposition to his plans to integrate the parochial schools, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel excommunicated three defiant racists. These three insisted the archbishop was a heretic and Communist seeking to undermine God’s wish that the races be separate and black people be subject to the oppression of the white majority.

The following is a photograph and caption from Life Magazine showing one of the excommunicated conservatives engaging in a dramatic gesture, calling on the archbishop to repent of his heresy.

A kneeling racist and an upright archbishop, from the April 27, 1962 issue of Life Magazine

“Look up to heaven,” pleaded the New Orleans woman kneeling before the aged archbishop, “and admit you know it’s God’s law to segregate.” Mrs. B. J. Gaillot Jr. had broken through a group of ladies to confront the Most Reverend Joseph Francis Rummel on the lawn of his residence. With two other arch foes of integration, Leander H. Perez Sr. and Jackson G. Ricau, she had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Archbishop Rummel for hindering his order to desegregate all New Orleans parochial schools and for inciting other Catholics to disobedience. Perez, political boss of two nearby Louisiana parishes (counties), hinted darkly of “Communistic influences” within the Catholic hierarchy, but the 85-year-old archbishop, unimpressed by this nonsense or by Mrs. Gaillot’s theology, remained firm. A day later Mrs. Gaillot’s husband asked the archbishop to excommunicate him too.

Archbishop Rummel and two of the three conservatives he excommunicated

Archbishop Rummel and two of the three conservatives he excommunicated

From the April 27, 1962 issue of Life Magazine

27 thoughts on “A Kneeling Racist and an Upright Archbishop

  1. Pingback: “A kneeling racist and an upright bishop”

      • They weren’t all reconciled. Mrs. Gaillot, who is still alive, has never retracted her position or reconciled with the Church. Perez was reconciled before his death and buried as a Catholic. Ricau’s situation is a bit more ambiguous. The linked article is first I’ve seen about him being formally reconciled; whether or not he was, over time he developed misgivings about the post-Vatican II Church and during his last years attended a chapel run by the Society of St. Pius X.

    • The POINT is to educate through history, which seems to not have changed much! Ignorant people,bigoted people still exists in this society. Maybe if one has to ask,one may be among them?

  2. The author may have a different point, but what I take from this is that Catholic clergy, often lead by the Bishops, have rightfully engaged in what some folks would call “politics” for quite some time. The Archbishop was right in dealing firmly with segregationists who were disobedient. People on the far left and far right will often say that Priests and Bishops should stay out of politics, and it’s usually loudest when these people are in defiance of the moral standard of the Church.

  3. @Fr Higgins

    That could be. Or it could be to stand in contrast to the bishops of today who continue to allow notoriously pro-abortion politicians to receive Communion. It could even be to say, “See, abortion may be bad, but segregation is like a million times worse. When’s the last time you heard of a public figure being excommunicated for supporting abortion?”

    That’s the problem with tossing out a random fact without drawing a conclusion from it. The readers are free to draw their own conclusions, based on their own preconceptions.

    • Your post and this reply are probably tangential to the point of the original post. But. Readers always draw their own conclusions based on their preconceptions. I am all for more articles that just present the facts and let the reader come to their own conclusions. Because, honestly, who needs conclusions spoon-fed to them? Tyrants and dictators are all too eager to give people opinions to hold. And that is why we can’t have a decent elected official in America. Distortions in the form of others using their opinions to present facts. Facts are facts and should be presented naked for the world to behold.

      • Yeah, and I bet you like jokes with the punch lines left out, too. It’s the dictators who like to spoon-feed the masses with punch lines.

        The fact is a dog could have watched that scene unfold. It would not have meant anything to him. It would have been activity that fits into no greater narrative and left him with no more insight than he had before.

        When a human tells a story, though, there should be some sort of reason for telling the story: some sort of thought that is supported or exemplified by the story. The hearer or reader should be able to judge the story based on whether the idea behind it was good or bad, true or false, supported strongly, weakly, or not at all by the story.

        In this case, that didn’t happen. There is no thought except what the reader wishes to make up for himself. It’s like me telling you that I bought a ticket for the 4/11/12 drawing of Powerball and the numbers were 02, 09, 14, 38, 56, PB 13. “OK,” you might say, “and your point is…?” “I’ll let you make up the point for yourself. It’s the tyrants and dictators who tell you the points of stories.” (And the point of the story of this fictional exchange:) I seriously doubt you would accept this response as reasonable.

  4. How interesting. What a inspiring and courageous Bishop to stand in opposition to such major pressure. What a good lesson for today.

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  6. Perhaps we are left to draw our own conclusions. What I see in this is a parallel between our hierarchy and those who claim to be “female priests”. Those who claim to be such feel they are in position to tell the bishops what God really wants them to do. They “reject” the excommunication as if it was up to them to accept or reject it.

    • One thing I find striking is that the person who is superficially showing the most respect to the bishop is in fact being both disobedient and condescending. It’s rather reminiscent of Matthew 21:28-31.

  7. Why are they referred to as “conservative” segregationists? Historically it was democrats that tried to thwart equality and civil rights for blacks. Today conservative is generally linked with the republican party, but that might not have been the case so much at that time.

    • There is so much about those pictures – atrtactive young ladies and nuns, all properly and modestly attired with head coverings and full habit! – that if that were the extent of the “offertory procession” renewal it would have occasioned a bit of praise. I appreciate that they do not enter the chancel. But the camel got his nose under the tent…Still, I like those pictures very much.Very unlike our local custom (occasioned, of course, for pastoral reasons) of tube-top, flip-flop, gum-snapping, crop haired, blue-jeans accoutered degenerate “lesbian vampire killers” lurching their way through what passes for a chancel today.I don’t know? What’s your take?

  8. I ask the same question STEVE did on APRIL 19, 2012 AT 1:53 PM when he asked: “Why are they referred to as “conservative” segregationists?” Southern democrats were against integration (and were the party of slavery too, back in the 19th century), and Galliot Perez and Ricau (“GP&R”) were all registered democrats to boot. What’s your evidence that GP&R were “conservatives”? To many of the ‘60’s generation, “conservative” means “those who want the status quo”, but by that unworkable definition, Stalin and Mao were conservative. Nay, conservatism – at least in America and by the American use of the word – is a philosophy of individual liberty and limited government – the exact opposite of the left and the three aforementioned segregationalist democrats.

    One more important note here too, and the following is very hard for the modern dumbed-down generation to grasp. As with the Holocaust-denying SPPX bishop Williamson, and with GP&R here, note that racism is NOT the reason they got excommunicated (any more than you could get excommunicated for missing mass on Sunday), rather, as the story explicitly states, they “had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Archbishop Rummel for hindering his order…” So it is the frustration of the ordinary’s goal, not the racism that led to the excommunication of GP&R. Archbishop Rummel could have issued an order to remove the altar rail and had GP&R defied that, they could have been excommunicated just the same. The same is true of Williamson who was excommunicated over issues of authority and schism, not personal peccadilloes, racist in nature or otherwise. It always amazes me to see the comments (and the reporting) on the Bishop Williamson issue when reporters and commenting readers opine “how can Williamson be welcomed back into the Church if he denies the Holocaust?!” As if Williamson was originally separated from the Church by denying the Holocaust. Or as if one’s position on the Holocaust is doctrinal in nature. No, Williamson’s and GP&R’s issues were one of authority, not racism. Their excommunications and reconciliations turn on ascent to authority and their own individual orthodoxy, not their political views. I hate to do this, but just to pour some gas on the flames here (and hopefully illustrate a point here using an extreme example), consider that one could deny the Holocaust and be a racist, and the Church would have no grounds for excommunicating you, but if you denied any defined dogma (Immaculate Conception, hypostatic union, Assumption of Mary, transubstantiation, etc.), you would be a candidate for excommunication. This is so because the touchstone of avoiding excommunication from the Church is to be orthodox, not to be on the “correct” side of political matter or historical dispute. Now, before I gather too much flack for my post, some disclaimers: 1) I am not Roman Catholic; 2) I am not a racist or anti-Semite; 3) I believe desegregation was the right thing to do and think bishop Rummel was doing the right thing and I applaud all like efforts; 4) I fully believe in the historicity of the horrors of the Holocaust and the 12+ million lives (6 million or more of which the lives of the Jewish people) lost in that Nazi atrocity.

    • “Nay, conservatism – at least in America and by the American use of the word – is a philosophy of individual liberty and limited government ”

      Over most of the time the word has been used in a political context and over most of the world, that has not been the definition of conservative — in fact, it has been the definition of the word “liberal.” But it is certainly the case then and now that persons who, among other things, resisted new fangled notions of racial and social equality that they saw as being imposed on them by a government not aligned with traditional values, have been called “conservatives.”

      • Well, “now” and “then” are not very far separated in time, and you’re only talking about within the US.

        The meaning of a word as it is actually used may have little or nothing to do with the etymology of the word. For example, I know a “Baptist” church that has essentially stopped performing baptisms because they don’t want people to think baptism is really important — that’s “too Catholic”. More relevant to this conversation, consider the “Liberal Democratic Party of Russia”; a “Liberal Democrat” there is radically different from a “liberal Democrat” in the US. And in the US, “liberals” are in the newfangled business of denying equality to newborns (if Mommy doesn’t want them) and expend a great deal of effort to conserve the effects of the Roe v. Wade ruling.

    • A man has an affair, and it ruins his marriage. Was his marriage ruined by lust? You would say no; his marriage was ruined by his affair. But the principle cause of the affair was his lust, so it would still be accurate to say that lust ruined his marriage by means of the affair which he motivated.

  9. This was a good reminder to me about that incident in 1962 which can be applied to today’s abortion debate and bishops’ and the Pope’s authority. The moral theology about race was not all that clear in 1962 USA, he took a strong stand in N.O, Cardinal Ritter did in St Louis.. Today;s dissenters on abortion, who actually vote for it, and physicians and mothers who perform it, have nowhere to hide except in some unwarrahted appeal to conscience. They do not need a bishop to pronounce excommunication, they do it to themselves. The media have changed the pastoral scene today, so bishops have to make prudent judgments, such as +Naumann did quietly with Sibelius as KS Governor, and failed. to stop her.. The Church has exercised the medicinal penalty of ex-communication since St Paul did, so She cannot stop now even with dissenting Catholic pro-death in the womb or the editorial pages of the mis-named “liberal” media. .

  10. I’m 81 years old and from New Orleans. I remember very well when Archbishop Rummell arrive in New Orleans around 1936. To appreciate the greatness of the man you must realize that he began preaching against segregation almost as soon as he got here. At first, of course, few people respected him, and some people even hated him.. By t he time he died most people respected him mightily. It was said here that when the bishops gathered for Vatican II’s first meeting, he was the first bishop to be received by Pope John XXIII because Pope John also had great respect for him. By then he was very old and almost blind.

    As to the conservatives and liberals at the time, bear in mind that after the Civil War Republicans in the South were very rare. (The GOP was the party of Lincoln, the invading armies, and the carpetbaggers.) I don’t think I even met a Republican until I was in my 20′s. So the Democratic Party in the South was the party of both the conservatives and the liberals, though there were very few liberals on the subject of race in the ’30s. Archbishop Rummell did a lot to change that in this area.


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