Waging a Private Civil War for Civil Rights
by charles e. walker jr. '78
Last weekend I remembered painfully the night that Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered. At the time I was a professor
There is a photograph that accompanied
Among his many attributes, Father Drinan was a Jesuit priest first and a civil and human rights activist second. To those of us standing closest to the flames of racism, he was, in the words of Georgetown Law Center’s Everette Bellamy, a “gift from God,” someone with “a vision to eradicate all racial injustices” in
What was the genesis of Father Drinan's commitment to civil rights? “Civil and human rights were at the core of his existence,” suggests Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ, a colleague of Drinan’s at
Father Drinan was a priest with a mobile pulpit. Whether he was addressing the
Father Drinan's perceived role was not to propose more civil rights legislation, but rather, in the same vein as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi, to breathe the morality of civil rights into our laws and the blood of its mandate into the veins of American culture.
On November 5, 1960, four years into his term as BC
Father Drinan, injured or not, shared and indeed embraced this indignation towards racial intolerance and injustice. He used Solon’s quote often during the next four and a half decades in speeches, sermons, lectures, and scholarly articles to punctuate his convictions about combating discrimination in employment, housing, and education as well as institutional racism. It was his prayer and his homily to support his private civil war for civil rights.
In a prophetic 1964 article, “Racial Balance in the Schools,” Father Drinan wrote: “The most explosive civil rights struggle in Northern cities during the next ten years will have to do with racially imbalanced schools or de facto segregation in education.” Ten years later, sixty-eight Boston public schools were deemed racially imbalanced in violation of the state’s 1965 Racial Imbalance Act. Judge W. Arthur Garrity after finding in Morgan v. Hennigan that “school authorities had knowingly carried out a systemic program of segregation affecting all the city’s students, teachers, and school facilities and had intentionally brought about or maintained a dual system,” ordered busing to desegregate
In a 1965 sermon to a guild of Catholic lawyers in
Catholic lawyers “more than any other group have the responsibility of enlightening and inspiring the poorly informed conscience of many Northern urban Catholics regarding the inherent equality of de facto segregated schools,” Father Drinan said. He also placed Catholic jurists in his cross hairs. “The tragic problems [and] tragic plight [of maintaining a racially imbalanced school system] central to interracial justice, poses dilemmas which Catholic jurists cannot evade or professionally avoid,” he added. “If anyone and especially a Catholic jurist refuses to accept the fact of the basic inequality of racially imbalanced schools, he is either very ill informed or prejudiced to the point where his bias, unconsciously, or otherwise, clouds and changes his judgment.”
In the address Father Drinan further appealed to Catholics of all walks to examine their consciences. “The position of Catholics in Northern cities with regard to integrated education may be sociologically understandable but it is theologically scandalous because it betrays an immoral indifference towards one of the greatest injustices of this generation,” he said.
As powerful as his words were, Father Drinan was also an apostle of “direct action,” the embodiment of the sacred scripture and admonition from the Epistle of James that “faith without works is dead.”
The Hon. Benjamin Jones ’69, chief judge of the Fourth Judicial District of
Another of Father Drinan’s students, Okla Jones II ’71, called him twenty years after graduating to share the news that he had been nominated by President Bill Clinton to the federal bench of the Eastern District of
Father Drinan remained committed to civil rights for the remainder of his life. He may have been a cornerstone of Congress, but with each graduating law school class at both BC Law and