Bishop John Ireland on Racism (1890)

John Ireland was born in Co. Kilkenny in 1838. Ten years later his family emigrated to U.S. during the Great Famine. He was ordained a priest in 1861 and later served as chaplain of the Fifth Minnesota Regiment during the American Civil War. He was promoted to Archbishop of St. Paul’s, Minnesota in 1888. Ireland was widely known for his progressive views on the issue of racial prejudice. On 5 May 1890 he spoke frankly about anti-black racism in the United States. This sermon was delivered at St. Augustine’s Church, Washington D.C., the focal point for an African American parish. According to Joseph Butsch “the bold and outspoken stand of the Archbishop on this occasion created somewhat of a sensation throughout America.”
St. Augustine Catholic Church, Washington, D.C. Photo taken in 1899. It was an African American Church. Later demolished in 1947. (Source: Library of Congress)

“It makes me ashamed as a man, as a citizen, as a Christian, to see the prejudice that is acted against the coloured citizens of America because of his colour. As to the substance, the coloured man is equal to the white man; he has a like intellect, the same blood courses in their veins; they are both equally the children of a common Father, who is in heaven.

A man shows a narrowness of mind and becomes unworthy of his humanity by refusing any privilege to his fellowman because he is coloured. Every prejudice entertained, every breach of justice and charity against a fellow- citizen because of colour is a stain flung upon the banner of our liberty that floats over us.

No church is a fit temple of God where a man, because of his colour, is excluded or made to occupy a corner. Religion teaches that we cannot be pleasing to God unless we look upon mankind as children of our Father in heaven. And they who order and compel a man because he is coloured to betake himself to a corner marked off for his race, practically contradict the principles of justice and of equal rights established by the God of Mercy, who lives on the altar.

Let Christians act out their religion, and there is no more race problem. Equality for the coloured man is coming. The coloured people are showing themselves worthy of it. Let the coloured be industrious, purchase homes, respect law and order, educate themselves and their children, and keep insisting on their rights.

The colour line must go; the line will be drawn at personal merit.”

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