Neary publishes book on urban race relations in northern U.S. cities
A new book by Dr. Timothy Neary, associate professor in the Department of History and coordinator of the American studies program, 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,” which will be published by the University of Chicago Press on Oct. 17, 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-20th 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 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.
Neary holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Georgetown University and master’s and doctoral degrees in U.S. history from Loyola University Chicago.