Segregated Sisterhoods and the Mercurial Politics of Racial Truth-Telling

tags: segregation, nuns



Shannen Dee Williams is the 2013-2014 Postdoctoral Fellow in African-American studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. In the fall of 2014, she will join the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville as an assistant professor of United States and African-American history.

“Young lady, you just told my story. In 1952, I was denied admission to the Sisters of Saint Joseph [of Carondelet] in Buffalo, New York solely on the basis of race. I was one of the broken hearts that you mentioned.”

Those were the first words spoken to me by Elaine Marie Clyburn on March 21, 2012. I had just delivered a lecture on the history of African-American Catholic sisters at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and I was preparing to leave the facility when the regal 77-year old Catholic woman stopped me in my tracks.

“Some people do not believe me when I tell them the sisters rejected me because I was black,” she continued. “But, it is the truth. I was explicitly told that I could not enter the Sisters of Saint Joseph because of my color and only because of my color.”...



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