Required reading: A Black Catholic syllabus

A reading list on the history of Black Catholics in the United States and their contributions to Catholic theology, history, and activism.

In the days and weeks since the killing of George Floyd and the protests for racial justice in all 50 states, lists have circulated of books, articles, and other resources to better understand the history of police brutality, black activism, and the legacy of racism in the United States.

However, few, if any, of these resources take a specifically Catholic, or even Christian lens. Indeed, in many parts of the church the legacy of Black Catholics—who have been part of the American Church for centuries—is still often unknown and uncelebrated.

To this end, U.S. Catholic offers a list of resources and prominent Black Catholic theologians, historians, and writers, along with others who study, write, and teach about the legacy of racism for faith communities. We seek to amplify the voices of Black Catholics and other people of faith: It is time for our church to listen to their experience and what they have to say.

We hope that this list contains something for everyone, whether you are looking for an overview of racial injustice in the United States, prayers or meditations, a theological treatise, or resources for talking about race and racial justice with your kids. While by no means a comprehensive list, our goal is foster conversations about racial justice in the church around the country and from a variety of entry points.


Did we miss something? Let us know at or reach out to us on Twitter @USCatholic. We’ll update this resource regularly. Much thanks to those of you who have already commented and let us know some of the books and articles we have missed.

If you share these resources, please use the hashtags #BlackHistoryIsCatholicHistory, #CatholicHistoryIsBlackHistory, and/or #BlackCatholicHistoryMatters, which were started by Shannen Dee Williams in 2019 to amplify the work of Black Catholic historians, who are often missing from discussion about Catholic history in the United States.

An introduction to racial justice

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander (New Press, 2020)
Alexander examines both the history of Jim Crow and how these policies continue to contribute to the mass incarceration of Black people today.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, 2018)
DiAngelo explores white people’s reactions to talking about race and how these reactions often work to maintain systems of racial inequality.


Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
by Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press, 2017)
According to Dyson, if we are to make real racial progress, white Americans must face some difficult truths.

How to be an Antiracist
by Ibram X. Kendi (One World, 2019)
A look at how ethics, history, law, and science contribute to racial inequality and how racism goes beyond simply the color of one’s skin.

When they Call you a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2020)
A powerful memoir by the woman behind the Black Lives Matter movement and what it means to be a Black woman in America today.

So You Want to Talk about Race
by Ijeoma Oluo (Seal Press, 2019)
Oluo offers a concrete discussion of topics ranging from intersectionality to microaggressions in order to foster honest conversations about race and racism among people of all races and ethnicities.


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson (One World, 2015)
The story of a young lawyer hired to defend a young black man for a crime he insists he didn’t commit. Also consider watching the film by the same name starring Michael B. Jordan.

Racial justice and our faith

Dancing With God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective
by Karen Baker-Fletcher (Chalice Press, 2007)
A meditation on the healing presence of God in the lives of those who have suffered violence.

The New Orleans Sisters of the Holy Family: African American Missionaries to the Garifuna of Belize
by Edward T. Brett
The Sisters of the Holy Family, founded in New Orleans in 1842, were the first African American Catholics to serve as missionaries.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree
by James Cone (Orbis, 2013)
Cone explores the theological parallels between Christ’s crucifixion and the lynching of Black Americans.


A Black Theology of Liberation
by James Cone (Orbis, 2010)
Originally published in 1970, this book offers a radical rethinking of Christianity through the lens of Black oppression in America.

Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration
by Matthew Cressler (New York University Press, 2017)
In this book, Cressler traces the development of the Black Catholic church in Chicago and shows how Black Catholic activists in the mid-20th century made Black Catholicism what it is today.


The History of Black Catholics in the United States
by Cyprian Davis (Herder & Herder, 1995)
The first book to explore the Black Catholic experience.

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and Justice of God
by Kelly Brown Douglas (Orbis, 2015)
Written after the murder of Trayvon Martin, in this book Douglas wrestles with Black Christians’ questions of justice and faith in light of continuing violence against Black Americans.


Fugitive Saints: Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery
by Katie Grimes (Fortress Press, 2017)
In this book, Grimes asks: “How should the Catholic church remember the sins of its saints?”

No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality
by Diana L. Hayes (Orbis, 2016)
In this collection of essays, prayers, and meditations, Hayes shows how womanist spirituality influences the faith lives of Black women.

Taking Down Our Harps: Black Catholics in the United States
edited by Diana L. Hayes and Cyprian Davis (Orbis, 1998)
The articles in this book examine Black Catholics through a variety of lenses, including theology, liturgy, spirituality, faith formation, and the role of women.

Shoes That Fit Our Feet: Sources for a Constructive Black Theology
by Dwight N. Hopkins (Orbis, 1993)
Hopkins offers lived resources for Black theology, grounding his reflections in the works of W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morrison. Malcolm X, and others.


The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race
by Willie James Jennings (Yale University Press, 2011)
In this history of Christianity, Jennings examines why and how Christianity has created and maintained segregated societies.

Racial Justice and the Catholic Church
by Bryan N. Massingale (Orbis, 2010)
Massingale argues that both Catholicism and the lived experience of Black Americans offer crucial insights into the struggle for racial justice.

Persons of Color and Religious at the Same Time: The Oblate Sisters of Providence, 1828-1860
By Diane Batts Morrow
The Oblate Sisters of Providence were the first permanent African American Roman Catholic sisterhood in the United States.

Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being
by M. Shawn Copeland (Fortress Press, 2020)
Shawn Copeland interprets Catholic theology through the lens of Black women’s experience and oppression.

Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience
by M. Shawn Copeland (Orbis, 2018)
In this book of essays, Shawn Copeland reflects on what it means to “take up one’s cross and follow Jesus” in a world shaped by white supremacy.

Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience
edited by M. Shawn Copeland (Orbis, 2009)
This book of essays highlights the experience of Black Americans from the 16th century to today.

Jesus and the Disinherited
by Howard Thurman (Beacon Press, 1996)
In this classic theology book, Thurman rereads the gospel as a message of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised.

Articles and interviews

Reckoning: White sisters respond to their own racism, to one historian’s call for justice
by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins
White sisters seem to be the members of the Catholic Church most open to a process of self-reflection when it comes to racism, and yet anti-blackness has been a defining feature of religious life in the United States.


Black Lives, Black Power, and Black Catholics
by Matthew J. Cressler
“All too often . . . “racial justice” is presumed to . . . a particular mode of protest from a particular period in time; namely, Christian liberal interracial efforts to end segregation in the South.”

The history of Black Catholics in America
by Matthew J. Cressler
The Black Catholic Movement reinvigorated the church, with liturgical innovation, new preaching styles and activist scholarship.

The priest who channeled Black Power into the Catholic Church
by Matthew J. Cressler
The second black priest ordained by the Chicago archdiocese, Father George H. Clements had a profound impact on the American Catholic Church.

Catholics of color are keeping the U.S. Catholic Church alive
by Mary C. Curtis
“The Catholic Church in the United States is being transformed by its black and brown parishioners, whose numbers and voices are rising.”

The Catholic Church and antiblackness
an interview with Katie Grimes
“[I am interested in] helping the Church be better, do better, and be what it is supposed to be: more authentically the ‘body of Christ’ to use Augustinian language.” 

What Catholics should know about raising white kids
a U.S. Catholic interview with Jennifer Harvey
White Christian parents need to examine how they talk about race with their children.

Race and the church: A change is coming
by Diana Hayes
Black Catholics can show our church the way forward; they know what it is like to mourn and be comforted, to thirst for justice and be filled.

Let the Holy Spirit guide how we talk about race
by Grace Ji-Sun Kim
To make conversations about race more productive, use different metaphors for God.


How (and how not) to address racism in the church
a U.S. Catholic interview with Simon Kim
A pastoral letter from the U.S. bishops won’t solve racism. Becoming an intercultural church might.

Let’s be a church where Black Lives Matter 
by Bryan Massingale
Let us pray for the strength to confront racism in the United States.

The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it
by Bryan Massingale
Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing. We all do. And that’s the problem.

The church’s appalling silence on racism
by Bryan Massingale
Pastors need to decry racism as a sin from the pulpit.

What will it take to redeem the soul of America?
by Bryan Massingale
Racism today is revealed in the pervasive lack of concern to the horrors and scandals unfolding in our midst.

Sister Helen Prejean says check your (white) privilege
a U.S. Catholic interview with Sister Helen Prejean
The eye-opening experience that sparked her lifelong commitment to justice.

Meet Father Bryan Massingale: A Black, gay, Catholic priest fighting for an inclusive church
by Olga Segura
A profile of a progressive leader in the Catholic Church working for racial and LGBTQ justice.

El Paso’s Bishop Mark Seitz: Black lives matter
by Bishop Mark J. Seitz
“To say that black lives matter is just another way of repeating something we in the United States seem to so often forget, that God has a special love for the forgotten and oppressed.”


Black Theology and a legacy of oppression
by M. Shawn Copeland
“Too often, Christians not only failed to defy slavery and condemn tolerance of racism; they supported it and benefited from these evils and ignored the very Gospel they had pledged to preach.”

Black history is Catholic history
by Shannen Dee Williams
Despite the herculean efforts of the black sisterhoods and those who followed in their footsteps, the teaching of black and black Catholic history outside of predominantly black Catholic institutions remains rare in the contemporary church.

Celebrating unsung black Catholic women in U.S. history
by Shannen Dee Williams
Beginning in the 19th century, women became the first representatives of the African American community to enter religious life.

The black Catholic nun every American should know
by Shannen Dee Williams
The extraordinary journey of Anne Marie Becraft is one that powerfully illustrates the foundational presence of black Catholics in the U.S. church and nation at large.

Church statements and documents

Statement of U.S. Bishops’ President on George Floyd and the Protests in American Cities
“The killing of George Floyd was senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice.”

“Open Wide Our Hearts: A Pastoral Letter Against Racism”
“Despite the great blessings of liberty that this country offers, we must admit the plain truth that for many of our fellow citizens, who have done nothing wrong, interactions with the police are often fraught with fear and even danger.”

Pope Francis on the death of George Floyd
“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich: “It’s time for a national reconciliation”
“People of color suffer discrimination and indignities not only from racist individuals, but from the very structures erected by our society that were meant to protect the vulnerable.”


Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley on the killing of George Floyd
“No American city, and, really, no American citizen is separated from what we have seen this week in vivid detail.”

Archbishop Gregory on the death of George Floyd
“The horror of George Floyd’s death, like all acts of racism, hurts all of us in the Body of Christ since we are each made in the image and likeness of God, and deserve the dignity that comes with that existence.”

Night Will Be No More: A Pastoral Letter to the People of God in El Paso
Racism can make a home in our hearts, distort our imagination and will, and express itself in individual actions of hatred and discrimination.

Catholic organizations

The Black Catholic Initiative of the Archdiocese of Chicago

Knights of Peter Claver

The National Black Catholic Caucus

National Black Sisters Conference

People to follow on social media

Matthew J. Cressler (@mjcressler)


Katie Grimes (@KatieMGrimes)

Jesuits’ Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project (@SHMRJesuits)

Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram)

Ally Quaranhenny (@thearmchaircom)

OIga Segura (@OlgaMSegura)

Emilie Townes (@emtownes)

Shannen Dee Williams (@BlkNunHistorian)

Nate Tinner-Williams (@natemup)

Parenting resources

Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America
by Jennifer Harvey (Abingdon Press, 2019)
In this book, Harvey offers age-appropriate suggestions for teaching children how to address racism and engage with racial justice movements.

“Talking about Race”
This resource, published by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, offers tools and guidance for talking with kids of all ages about race.

This Instagram account offers suggestions for parenting and education through a racial justice lens.

Books and resources for kids

Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints
by Daneen Akers (Watchfire Media, 2019)

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
by Jabari Asim (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016)

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice
by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard (Magination Press, 2018) 

This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work
by Tiffany Jewell (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020)

Next steps

How to make this moment the turning point for real change
by Barack Obama
“If we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both.”

75 things white people can do for racial justice
Inspired by the resources above? Get involved in your local community with one or more of these 75 suggestions.

Image: Koshu Kunii on Unsplash