When I first read John McGreevy’s Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter With Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North (1996) I thought he was describing my upbringing in an Italian and Slovakian enclave of northern New Jersey. It is a great book.
So needless to say I have been enjoying the forum on the 20th anniversary of Parish Boundaries over at the Religion in American History blog. The final post in the series comes from McGreevy himself. Here is a taste of his reflections:
So how did I get to that dissertation, entitled, as Lila Berman noted, “American Catholics and the African-American migration, 1919-1970”? It’s a short story. I wandered into graduate school, as we might say, without a “research agenda.” I wavered between high school teaching and college teaching and in fact I ended up teaching for a time at Hales Franciscan high school, an African-American Catholic high school on the south side of Chicago. At Stanford I loved the coursework and enjoyed working with superb and generous faculty such as David Kennedy and George Fredrickson, ultimately the first and second readers on my dissertation. But I agonized over a dissertation topic. I did a seminar paper on 19th century populism in California. I did one on draft resisters in California and even wrote a dissertation proposal on the topic.[i] I finally settled on Catholics and race after reflecting on my own life and that of my parents, very much raised in a Catholic milieu, with both of my parents having gone to Catholic grade school, high school, college and, for my father, medical school and then both working in catholic hospitals for much of their professional lives. This Catholic milieu – roughly 25% of the US population and a standard topic in, say, German history — seemed absent from the literature on United States history.
But what would be my angle? Probably no topic seemed as exciting to graduate students at Stanford as “race” broadly construed, and George Fredrickson’s work, and more distantly that of David Roediger, Barbara Fields and others animated late night conversations.[ii] And then like Amanda Seligman I read Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto:Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 (Cambridge, 1983). Hirsch mentioned Catholics episodically and I started following his footnotes, which led to a full summer going through the Catholic Interracial Council papers in the Chicago Historical Society archives. The late Archie Motley befriended me there and pointed me to other local sources and archives. I even ended up, I should add, marrying and raising four children with a local archivist. So I had a topic.
Read the rest here.