Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Activity 1: Integration Case Study - New Orleans

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read Handout 1 and copy it for all participants.

Description of Activity

Say, in these or similar words:

The question of racial integration in Southern Unitarian Universalist congregations was raised before the Supreme Court 1954 school desegregation decision in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education, and long before the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. The First Unitarian Universalist Church in New Orleans accepted its first black member in 1949, but only years later did the congregation adopt an official policy of welcoming all people, regardless of race.

Distribute Handout 1, The New Orleans Story. Explain that the handout is drawn from documents written by a minister, the late Reverend Albert D'Orlando, to describe the process by which the congregation he served in the 1960s became an officially integrated church. Read the handout aloud. Then, solicit questions, comments, and observations about the process of integrating the New Orleans congregation, using these questions:

  • What events caused the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans to integrate?
  • What type of congregational leadership was necessary to support integration? From whom did this leadership come?
  • How did some members resist integration of the congregation?
  • What are some ways racial integration changed the identity of the congregation as a whole? How did it change individual members?
  • Can you imagine your congregation making an equally dramatic shift in its identity? What sort of leadership would it require? What sort of resistance would such change meet?
  • What does it mean to support a radical shift in congregational culture?

Allow ten minutes for this discussion.

Then, share the information that the vote to adopt a policy of integration was not the end of the story. Tell the group that in 1958, some members, feeling, among other things, that the congregation had gone too far in its engagement with the issue of civil rights, left to found another Unitarian fellowship in the city.

Share two quotes from Rev. D'Orlando. The first is from his Annual Report of 1959, describing the split in the congregation:

In the process of exploring there will be times when although we will stand shoulder to shoulder in the creative faith that is ours, we may not always see "eye to eye" on every issue. One of the wonderful things about the Unitarian movement is that it can encompass so many varying points of view and still be creative. It is in this spirit that the past year has seen the formation of a new Unitarian Fellowship in New Orleans. We are pleased for its members that their group is now underway, we wish for them all success in their effort, and we acknowledge that whatever else this represents, it cannot help but add to the strength of religious liberalism in our city.

The second quote is from Rev. D'Orlando's 1965 summary of his life's work. In it he explained the congregational split:

For the first eight years of my ministry here, the congregation was divided between a large majority anxious to fulfill its responsibility to the community and a small, but vocal, minority which felt that the church should not be involved in community issues, particularly in the sensitive area of race relations. Finally, in 1958, a group of 40 left the church to form its own Fellowship in the city. While we regretted their departure, and while we did all we could to prevent the split, we had no alternative but to grapple with the larger issue.

Ask participants to reflect:

Does knowing the New Orleans congregation later split change your response to the question: What does it mean to support a radical shift in congregational culture?