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Black Catholic History Month

Highlighting A.P. Tureaud Sr.

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As we continue celebrating Black Catholic History Month in the archdiocese, we continue answering our call to engage in the "See, Judge, Act" model: first, we must "see" or learn about the historic and present experiences of Black Catholics in the U.S.; next, we must "judge" or discern our response to those experiences; and, finally, we are exhorted to "act" or to transform our discernment into concrete works of charity and justice. To help us continue to "see," as there is always more to learn, we have another profile of an historic Black Catholic, who made outstanding contributions to the civil rights movement.

Alexander Pierre Tureaud, Sr. or A.P. Tureaud was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1899 only "three years after the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision ... established the 'separate but equal' doctrine of legalized racial segregation." This infamous codification of racism in our country inescapably and palpably shaped Tureaud's life, perhaps even inspiring him to become "one of the most prominent legal minds in the history of the civil rights movement." Before he got there, however, Tureaud enjoyed a childhood in New Orleans where he likely grew up hearing "stories of the valiant fight" for equity that his community had continued to fight even after the Civil War. This community launched Tureaud into a life of advocacy, starting with his work as a young adult "as a junior clerk in the Justice Department Library" in Washington, DC. Tureaud then graduated in 1925 from Howard University Law School and married Lucille Dejoie in 1931.

Tureaud then "returned to New Orleans intent on beginning a law practice." It was not until 1944, however, that his legal career took flight. From then "until his retirement and death, he waged a crusade consisting of more than 65 lawsuits," all aimed at establishing racial equality and equal access to public services. He is most well known for his success in cases that fought for equal voting rights and desegregation in both higher education and public schools in New Orleans and much of Louisiana.

What many do not know about Tureaud, however, is that in addition to being "a devoted husband of more than forty years and the father of six children," he was also a devout Catholic. He could often be found attending "Mass at Corpus Christi Church before returning to his passionate fight for justice." He was even a member of the Knights of Peter Claver, the largest and longest standing organization of lay Black Catholic men in the U.S., and served in its leadership for many years. It was clear that Tureaud's faith fed and fueled him as he dedicated his life to fighting for racial justice and equality before the law.

Once more, we have "seen." We have seen that A.P. Tureaud, Sr. was a Black Catholic whose life of faith and courageous fight for justice paved the way for desegregation in New Orleans and Louisiana, the first step on a long road toward racial justice. With this in mind, I invite us once again to judge: how might God be speaking to you through the life of A.P. Turead, Sr.? What is God asking you to do with this information? Ultimately, of course, I invite us all to act. Perhaps we will get involved with or support organizations like the NAACP or Equal Justice Initiative who are advocating for continued racial justice in the law. Or maybe we will simply continue learning about racial segregation in the U.S. in its historic and present iterations. Keep an eye out for the next installment in this series so you can learn more about Black Catholics in the U.S. and celebrate Black Catholic History Month!


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