“From 1870s until today, the bonds of kinship have been as key for the survival of a small group of native Catholics in the rural South as has their ability to maintain the social mores of the South, which for much of their history meant segregation, at least in public. ”
Accidental Pioneers: The Generational Consequences of the Desegregation in Newton Grove, NC, uses the history of a single parish to explore how different generations of American southerners--black, white, Latino, Catholic, Protestant--experience the lasting legacy of slavery and segregation in rural communities. Here I use archival research and oral histories to analyze the ripple effects of an abrupt, bishop-mandated desegregation in 1953, the year before the Brown v. Board decision. The community under study was founded in 1871 as a rare interracial Catholic parish in the segregated Protestant South. It was later segregated in 1939, creating white and black churches two hundred yards apart from one another on a shared swath of former plantation farmland. The mandate to merge the two churches led to coverage in the national media casting the parish as the epitome of continuing Southern racism despite their pioneering desegregation effort well before Little Rock. The research question centers on what combination of kinship, religious practice, and rural necessity allowed this desegregation effort to succeed over the long term despite its initial failure.