In new book, Neary examines urban race relations in northern U.S. cities
NEWPORT, R.I. (Oct. 3, 2016) - A new book by Dr. Timothy B. Neary, associate professor of history and coordinator of American studies at Salve Regina University, challenges many of our widely accepted understandings about U.S. race relations in northern cities during the mid-20th century.
“Crossing Parish Boundaries: Race, Sports, and Catholic Youth in Chicago, 1914-1954” (University of Chicago Press, Oct. 17, 2016), builds upon and complicates John T. McGreevy’s groundbreaking scholarship two decades ago on the subject of the Catholic encounter with race in the 20th century urban north.
Controversy erupted in spring 2001 when Chicago’s mostly white Southside Catholic Conference youth sports league rejected the application of the predominantly black St. Sabina grade school. Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, inter-racialism seemed stubbornly unattainable, and the national spotlight once again turned to the history of racial conflict in Catholic parishes. It’s widely understood that midcentury, working-class, white ethnic Catholics were among the most virulent racists, but, as “Crossing Parish Boundaries” shows, that’s not the whole story.
In his book, Neary reveals the history of Bishop Bernard Sheil’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), which brought together thousands of young people of all races and religions from Chicago’s racially segregated neighborhoods to take part in sports and educational programming. Tens of thousands of boys and girls participated in basketball, track and field, and the most popular sport of all, boxing, which regularly filled Chicago Stadium with roaring crowds.
The history of Bishop Sheil and the CYO shows a cosmopolitan version of American Catholicism, one that is usually overshadowed by accounts of white ethnic Catholics aggressively resisting the racial integration of their working-class neighborhoods. By telling the story of Catholic-sponsored interracial cooperation within Chicago, “Crossing Parish Boundaries” complicates our understanding of northern urban race relations in the mid-twentieth century.
“In an era otherwise characterized by deep ethnic tensions, even violence, especially between the children of immigrants and the new black migrants to the city, Neary shows us how local Catholic leaders and parishioners deliberately and successfully resisted the bigotry of their times,” writes Elliot Gorn, the Joseph A. Gagliano Chair in American Urban History at Loyola University in Chicago.
The book’s publish date coincides with the Eighth Biennial Conference of the Urban History Association (UHA) taking place at the Water Tower Campus of Loyola University Chicago Oct. 13-16. Neary is the executive director of the UHA and the conference is expected to attract more than 600 scholars representing six continents. A special roundtable discussion on the 20th anniversary of McGreevy’s award-winning research on the topic will take place at the conference. McGreevy is professor of history and the I. A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame.
Neary, who has his A.B. in American studies from Georgetown University, earned both his M.A. and Ph.D. in U.S. history from Loyola University Chicago.