Andrew Moore.  The South's Tolerable Alien: Roman Catholics in Alabama and Georgia, 1945-1970. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007) 210 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8071-3212-8. Reviewed by Gregory N. Hite, for The Journal of Southern Religion.

Andrew Moore's new book is an insightful examination of Catholic life in post-World War II Georgia and Alabama that offers an important contribution to a number of academic fields.   Moore provides a fresh look at the dynamic interplay among regional, religious, and racial identities between whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants in the South. Most explorations of the concept of "Southerness" have inevitably hinged upon two seemingly indistinguishable identities: whiteness and Protestantism.  He recognizes that race and faith are essential to understanding the nature of social, economic, and political power in the South, but notes that it is the interchange between the two categories that solidified one's standing in the region. White Catholic Southerners were keenly aware that any advantage their skin color might provide was fleeting at best. Their faith branded them as indisputable outsiders and the violence and intimidation used to keep blacks in their place could very easily be directed at them. In order to co-exist in this uneasy pluralism, Southern white Catholics allied themselves with the white Protestant majority and vigorously maintained the region's racial status quo. Moore explores the various strategies Southern white Catholics employed to make their way in such an inhospitable environment and the challenge that the emerging civil rights movement posed for them as that racial hegemony was threatened.  


"Moore explains that while Catholics agreed to abide by the racial mores of the region, they refused to give validity to anti-Catholic attacks and attempted to forge a new Southern identity."  


Moore explains that while Catholics agreed to abide by the racial mores of the region, they refused to give validity to anti-Catholic attacks and attempted to forge a new Southern identity. He notes: "They would wear the intolerable alien badge so long. Their patriotism and commitment to democracy and religious liberty should be indisputable. Southern Catholics asserted their right to belong and be taken seriously in the larger society. In their minds, they and their message were to be acknowledged and heeded not in spite of their Catholicism but because of it" (35).  


Southern Catholics were flung across the region in small communities. They sustained themselves with regular attendance at mass and public events, like the annual Christ the King celebration in Mobile, characterized by a profound deference to the Church authorities. The buildings and rituals linked them to diocesan authorities and thus to a larger Catholic world outside of the South. At the same time, Catholics partially adopted particularly Southern Protestant traditions including emotional revivals and open-air preaching. 


But, there was a cost to the Catholic community's uneasy admittance into Southern society. Black Catholics were relegated to mission parishes, the rear of the Cathedral or the tail end of public processions. A few reformers, such as Father Albert Foley, a sociology professor at Spring Hill College in Mobile, challenged these practices and worked to bring these tensions to light and, as a result, many were silenced or transferred out of the diocese. However, by the late 1950s, an emerging cadre of activists within the Church was vocally challenging these practices. The 1958 National Bishop's statement declaring that racial segregation was irreconcilable with Christian teaching lent episcopal authority to their charges. Suddenly the precarious arrangement that had made life as a Catholic in the South manageable was being threatened from within. 


Thus, Moore describes the story of Catholic participation in the emerging civil rights movement not as a "triumph of liberal inclusion," but as one of a shifting sense of identity. He notes that many Southern white Catholics sought to enhance their own status by stridently attempting to maintain the racial status quo in the hopes that they might somehow validate their claim to the Southern way of life. Many rejected calls from fellow Catholics to abide by church teaching and instead, branded all reformers as outsiders. A few took courageous stands for racial justice. Moore is careful to note that there was no single response to the crises that confronted Southern Catholics. Bishop Toolen in Mobile and Hallinan in Atlanta navigated the challenges in remarkably different ways; each approach was the result of each man's personal history and the resources available to him in his diocese. Catholic engagement in the civil rights movement in the mid 1960s illuminated fault lines within the church over questions of race, gender, authority, and tradition just as the church was confronting those issues thousands of miles away in Rome at the second Vatican Council. Moore contends that by the 1970s Southern Catholics no longer felt part of an immutable Catholic Church, but, perhaps for the first time, felt secure in their "Southerness." This resulted in a new set of alliances, tensions, compromises, and challenges that characterized the Church's place in the South in the decades following the movement.   


While the book is essential reading for anyone engaged in the study of American Catholic history, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Southern or Civil Rights history. Moore's nuanced approach to the interaction of faith and race in the South is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the varieties of Southern identity.


Gregory N. Hite, New College of Florida


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