In continuing to celebrate Black History Month, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Catholic Historical Research Center recently published a look back at the Catholic Interracial Council of Philadelphia (CIIC), which was first established in 1937. Born out of a desire of black and white Catholics wanting to work together against prejudice and towards interracial justice, the first Catholic Interracial Council was formed in New York in 1934, with the goal for other local chapters to open throughout the country. Philadelphia's first chapter, which opened in 1937, nearly 85 years ago, was one of many that worked within the Church on early efforts of social justice, which remain a tenant of today's Catholicism. Organized by Father LaFarge, who put together the New York council, Philadelphia's council was centered on the role of colleges/universities and began at St. Joseph's University. Representatives from other local colleges, including Villanova University, LaSalle University, Rosemont College, Immaculata University, and our very own Chestnut Hill College, sat on the first council and continued to do so as the council began working toward its goals.
The council was re-incorporated into the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations into the 1960s, but prior to that, the CIIC worked diligently and successfully toward interracial justice within the church and in the city of Philadelphia. One of the biggest successes of the council was in helping to create Philadelphia's Fair Employment Practices Commission, which later became the Commission on Human Relations. This office, which seeks to end discrimination in employment, continues to operate today. In the 1940s, the CIIC was combined with the West Philadelphia Interracial Forum, under the banner of the Catholic Interracial Council of Philadelphia (CICP). The council continued to minister to the underserved communities, starting lunch programs, a credit union, and adult education classes for African American families in North Philadelphia. The CICP also broadcasted a weekly radio program, which served as a forum for members to share the work and progress on their goals of ending discrimination and endeavoring toward interracial justice. The CICP denounced interracial violence at every turn and was able to assist in desegregation efforts in Levittown and other communities.
"Spanning three decades, the Interracial council movement had a large impact on the Catholic Church and relations between whites and blacks," the Archdiocese's article reads. "The councils sought to better integrate both groups within the church and strived to achieve social justice within local communities."
Chestnut Hill College is proud to have had an active seat at the table of this early work by the church. You can read more on the CICP and even listen to early recordings of the radio program at the AOP's Catholic Historical Research Center website.