Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

Beverly Bond

Committee Member

Sarah Potter

Committee Member

Margaret Caffrey


Memphis,Tennessee was thrust into the national civil rights movement after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. The city, however, has a much more complex connection with civil rights activity than the traditional narratives imply. As early as 1950, both black and white Memphians attempted to address the social inequities of Jim Crow. Many of these early social justice activists were women. Although the assumption is that the women would be Protestant because of the historical association of African Americans with Protestant denominations as well as the lack of a significant Catholic population inTennessee, there was a small, but active, progressive Catholic community in Memphis. Using the lens of faith, this dissertation examines the motivations and activities of an interracial group of Catholic women activists. Motivated by the tenets of their Catholic faith, the women used existing social, political, and religious organizations to further the cause of social justice. When these structures were not available, the women created them: Blessed Martin House of Hospitality, Catholic Human Relations Council, the Concerned Women of Memphis-Shelby County, Panel of American Women, and NAME (New Attitudes, Memphis Encounter). They also acted as individuals to achieve their goals: writing newspaper columns and magazine articles, picketing segregated parochial schools, serving in political positions and running for office, and marching in protests. The women, a small representation of progressive Catholics active in the South in the time period, redefined their perceptions and expectations of themselves both as women and Catholics. In doing so, they challenged contemporary gender norms as well as the patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Their stories highlight the significant contributions made by Catholics and Catholic theology to the civil rights movement on the local level and further refine the understanding of the larger civil rights and women's rights movements.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.