Once again, our Noble Order is blessed to celebrate another Founders’ Day, marking 112 years of faith, fraternalism, and service. As we pause to reflect upon the good work our Order has done and the work that remains before us, we should keep in mind the dedicated Knights and Ladies who have gone before us building up Christ’s Kingdom through Claverism.
Given the increased attention the Order has given to Social Justice concerns, it is worthwhile to take a look at just some of the ways the Order has been involved in Civil and human rights over the past 112 years.
- Past Supreme Knight, Eugene B. Perry, M.D., of Houston was a participant in the 1963 March on Washington.
- As a Board member of the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas, Past Supreme Knight John H. Clouser fought to equalize salaries between white and black teachers in that state.
- Past National Advocate, Alexander Pierre Tureaud, under the Social Justice Fund (now known as the Human Development Fund), began a campaign in 1944 of sending Negro Digest and other positive black literature to American seminaries.
- Grand Knight and Attorney, Ambrose A. Page of St. Louis filed one of the first lawsuits to integrate the American Legion in 1944.
- Sir Knight Clarence P. Thomas led the movement to integrate the segregated archdiocesan Holy Name Society unions in New Orleans in 1952.
- In 1934, Supreme Knight Louis Israel wrote to candymaker Milton Hershey to protest the exclusion of Black boys from the Hershey Industrial School in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
- National Chaplain Bishop Harold R. Perry, while provincial superior of his community, became the first black clergyman to open Congress with prayer in 1964.
- From 1926 through 1934, the Order’s official organ, The Claverite, published editorials condemning the persecution of the Church during the Cristero War in Mexico. Donations were sent to support the Church in Mexico.
- Bro. Ralph Metcalfe, Olympic gold and silver medalist and U. S. Congressman from Chicago, joined the Order while on the faculty of Xavier University.
- Contributions from the Charity Fund of the National Council Knights of Peter Claver went to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1931.
- At the 1963 Convention in Indianapolis, the Order presented a special honor, the Caritas Dei Award, to the nation's first Catholic President, John F. Kennedy, for his interest in civil and human rights.
- In 1946, at the very first National Convention held in the North, the Order condemned and contributed money to the fight against restrictive housing covenants in Chicago.
- Past Western States Deputy, Herman J. Faulk, K.S.G., was a prominent member of the NAACP in New Iberia and was beaten during the horrific 1944 New Iberia Incident, in which Black professionals and NAACP leaders were terrorized.
- Past National Advocate, Aloysius Wickliffe, a Civil Rights attorney in Houston, was the campaign manager for Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
- In 1935, the entire Order turned out at Mass in prayerful support of the passage of the Costigan-Wagner Anti-Lynching Bill.
- Past National Treasurer and Gulf Gulf Coast Deputy, Alexander L. Herman of Mobile, was elected to the Mobile County Democratic Committee in Alabama in 1954, the first African American elected official in Alabama since the nineteenth century.
- The Order’s first National Chaplain, Father John H. Dorsey, S.S.J., was only the second Black Josephite priest. As early as 1914, the Order adopted resolutions calling for more Black priests.
- First Central States Deputy, Sir Knight Edward LaSalle, was the first black recipient of the James J. Hoey Award for Interracial Justice in 1942.
- Past National Advocate and Civil Rights attorney Ernest "Dutch" Morial was the first black appellate Court judge in Louisiana and became the first black Mayor of New Orleans in 1978.
These are just a few historical facts that shed light on the ongoing commitment our Noble Order has had to proclaiming the dignity and equality of all mankind as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
When Claverism was still in its infancy, it was called “the most important movement for colored Catholics that has taken place for many a day.” It is no wonder then that Saint Katharine Drexel was one of the early contributors to our Order; that Servant of God Fulton Sheen participated in our 1963 National Convention; and that the spiritual daughters of Venerable Henriette Delille, the Sisters of the Holy Family, and Servant of God Thea Bowman through the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, have all benefitted from Claver Charity.
We have a commendable history, and we offer prayers of thanksgiving to Almighty God for the good He has enabled us to do; but we know that there is still work to be done. Take inspiration from our history, find hope in our present work, and never cease to invite others to join the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver in the cause of Catholic Action!
Thank you National Lay Board Member Jari Honora for your vast contributions to this piece.