A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh

By Kenneth J. Heineman | Go to book overview

3
City of God Class, Culture, and the Coming Together of the Now Deal Coalition, 1936

Catholic reformers realize that forging an electoral coalition of Slavs, Jews, and blacks will not be easy. Each group bears the scars of decades of discrimination and has some cause to be suspicious of the other. Fortunately for reformers like Father Charles Owen Rice, Democratic boss David Lawrence, and labor leader Phil Murray, Roosevelt's economic reforms unite America's dispossessed. Moreover, Catholic politicians in the industrial heartland, unlike their counterparts in the East, offer their friendship and assistance to blacks and Jews. In 1936, in cities like Pittsburgh, a New Deal electoral majority is born.

Father Charles Owen Rice was not one to pull punches, particularly when it came to confronting what he viewed as hypocritical behavior among Catholics. And what could possibly be more hypocritical than for an impoverished minority to sanction discrimination against other less fortunate minorities? To Catholics who had "tasted the bitterest dregs of persecution," racial hatred was unconscionable. "Before any Catholic says, 'The Negro must keep his place,' let him find out just what right he or any other sinful lump of the slime of the earth has to assign any race an inferior place. Christ has something to say about those who pick the highest place for themselves and leave the lower places for others. They end up in the lowest place." No less critical of racism, the Pittsburgh Catholic endorsed the efforts of Democrats in the state legislature to prohibit discrimination in public accom

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