In 1924, Jim Crow laws were still enforced in many parts of the United States and the Ku Klux Klan was experiencing resurgence. Martin Luther King Jr. had not yet been born, and the Civil Rights Act would not be enacted for another 40 years. Nonetheless, it was the year in which the Knights of Columbus commissioned and published a landmark history of black Americans: The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America, by civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois.
The Gift of Black Folk, which received critical acclaim, presented the contributions of black Americans from the earliest colonial settlements through World War I and the early 1920s. It was recently republished by the Knights of Columbus. The new edition features an introduction by Carl A. Anderson, who, prior to becoming Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, spent nearly a decade working on issues of racial equality as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
“A hundred years after W.E.B. Du Bois helped cofound the NAACP, the United States can view its civil rights achievements with pride,” Anderson wrote in the introduction. “African-Americans have served on the Supreme Court, in the Cabinet, and, finally, as President of the United States. The Gift of Black Folk allows us to fully appreciate these monumental achievements. It is our belief that Du Bois’ classic work will continue to inform and inspire for many generations to come.”
The book is available through Amazon.
Three years earlier, against the same backdrop of widespread bigotry, the Order established the Knights of Columbus Historical Commission to combat the revisionist history of the time, which tended to exclude minority groups from the record of historical achievement. The project was overseen by Edward McSweeney, who served as assistant U.S. Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island from 1893-1902.
As early as the 1890s African-Americans were members, and officers, of the Knights of Columbus. In 1895 - just 13 years after the Order's founding - the Philip Sheridan Council was formed in Southboro, MA; Samuel Williams, an African-American, was one of the four organizers of the council and became the council's first Chancellor. A year later, Williams also assumed a special role at the Massachusetts State Convention as one of the concluding speakers, along with the State Chaplain.