“A kneeling racist and an upright archbishop”

That was the headline for the picture above, which was reposted the other day in the excellent website run by Deacon Eric Stoltz, Conciliaria, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

As the post notes:

On April 16, after a long period of negotiations with leading conservative segregationists of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, several of whom backed down from their opposition to his plans to integrate the parochial schools, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel excommunicated three defiant racists. These three insisted the archbishop was a heretic and Communist seeking to undermine God’s wish that the races be separate and black people be subject to the oppression of the white majority.

The photograph and caption from Time Magazine show one of the excommunicated conservatives engaging in a dramatic gesture, calling on the archbishop to repent of his heresy.

“Look up to heaven,” pleaded the New Orleans woman kneeling before the aged archbishop, “and admit you know it’s God’s law to segregate.” Mrs. B. J. Gaillot Jr. had broken through a group of ladies to confront the Most Reverend Joseph Francis Rummel on the lawn of his residence. With two other arch foes of integration, Leander H. Perez Sr. and Jackson G. Ricau, she had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Archbishop Rummel for hindering his order to desegregate all New Oreleans parochial schools and for inciting other Catholics to disobedience. Perez, political boss of two nearby Louisiana parishes (counties), hinted darkly of “Communistic influences” within the Catholic hierarchy, but the 85-year-old archbishop, unimpressed by this nonsense or by Mrs. Gaillot’s theology, remained firm. A day later Mrs. Gaillot’s husband asked the archibishop to excommunicate him too.

It’s a fascinating, and sad, piece of our history.  Read the rest.


  1. I needed to see this today. Thank you.

  2. Discovered this happened 50 years ago also.

    I found a more detailed history at http://romereturn.blogspot.com/2010/02/new-orleans-1962-archbishop-rummels.html

    I wonder what ever happened to her? Did she reconcile or repent? But I found she was still using the courts in 1969 to push segregation.

    There’s much more to this out there – yes, fascinating and sad.

  3. Archbishop Rummel was a great man. There is a good bit to this story that sadly has applications today as to religious freedom. The Louisiana legislature tried on numerous attempts to intervere with the intergration of Catholic schools.

    Here is the interesting part. No doubt the majority of white Catholics were not fans at all of the Archbishops moves. If you think Birth Control is heated that is nothing compared to racial tensions in already hot New Orleans in the day.

    YET these Catholics, with all their faults, did not bite . They did not rise up and join the forces in the City and State to violate religious freedom. In the end despite their own failing the Archbishop was boss. More than that they GOT the big picture too of the threat that such State intervention could have in the long run. And thus the attempts of political power to Trump Church power thankfully failed.

  4. From the story above:

    1) Leander H. Perez Sr – “Democratic political boss of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes in southeastern Louisiana”

    2) Jackson G. Ricau – secretary of the Citizens Council of South Louisiana. Dr. M. Ney Williams was both a director of the Citizens’ Council and an advisor to Democrat governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi.

    What the folks tend to forget was that was that Southern Democrats who controlled state houses and legislatures supported segregation in the South.

    Gov. George Wallace (D-AL) said, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Gov. Ross Robert Barnett (D-MS) said, “The Good Lord was the original segregationist. He put the black man in Africa. … He made us white because he wanted us white, and He intended that we should stay that way.” Gov. Jimmie Davis (D-LA) said, “We will preserve Segregation.”

    a) “Platform and principles of the Mississippi State Democratic Party (brochure); 1960″

    “We believe in the segregation of the races and are unalterably opposed to the repeal or modification of the segregation laws of this state and we condemn integration and the practice of non-segregation.”


    Al Gore’s father, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), and Southern Senators/Reps voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  5. At first, when I saw the picture and before I read the article, I thought the bishop was Romero.

  6. I wonder what ever happened to her? Did she reconcile or repent?

    A year or two ago, I heard a historian who writes on this period (Fr. Bentley Anderson, now at Fordham) say that Una Gaillot is still alive, in her nineties, and that she has never repented or reconciled with the Church. I also found the following words from Gaillot, apparently spoken in 2004 (source: http://www.sltrib.com/faith/ci_2385771):

    “Of the three, only Gaillot is still alive. She remains committed to her segregationist views and defiantly outside the church. She believes her excommunication violates church law.

    It appears that she has not set foot in a Catholic church since 1962.

    Although she is close to her children, she refused to attend her sons’ weddings, she said. She watched one son’s ceremony through a church’s rear double doors held open for a mother’s benefit.

    She will not give in. But defiance takes its toll, she acknowledged. ‘If you only knew how hard it is. It used to be harder; it’s starting to help.’

    ‘But Good Friday,’ – she hesitated, tearing up – ‘Damn, Good Friday’s hard. And Easter Sunday. Those two days are hard. Because I can’t go to church.’”

  7. “‘But Good Friday,’ – she hesitated, tearing up – ‘Damn, Good Friday’s hard. And Easter Sunday. Those two days are hard. Because I can’t go to church.’”

    No, because you WON’T go to church.

    Her unrepentance is frightening, especially as the end of her life nears.

  8. Joe, thanks for pointing out that article following up on Mrs. Gaillot. So sad.

    I should also point out that my fingers betrayed me: the article was from Life, not Time. I’ve corrected my error in the post.

  9. We should all pray for her and for our own stubborn recalcitrant selves that cannot easily see where we are the ones who will not yield.

  10. Deacon Norb says:

    Many years ago, I was digging out some stories about Catholicism and the Confederacy and found this story. That quickly led to a letter to the Archdiocese of New Orleans Archivist who sent me copies of several of the newspaper articles of that era which told the rest of the story.

    Did not know that Mrs Gaillot was still alive much less how her story unfolded after that.

    Thanks ro both Deacon Eric and Deacon Greg who brought all of us up-to-date.

  11. Sherry, bless you for reminding us that whenever we see a story like this the proper response is to see if any aspect of it applies to us!

  12. You’re right, George. In the pre-civil rights era, the Southern Democrats were the biggest block to the enactment of civil rights legislation.

    And Lyndon Johnson — who was courageous in the cause of civil rights — was also correct when he said (after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964), “We have lost the South for a generation.” Richard Nixon and his band of angry Republicans were all too eager to move in over the next few years with their infamous “Southern strategy” — playing to the bigotry that many whites, unfortunately, still harbored. The people who were Southern Dems (and obstacles to civil rights/human rights) largely moved over to the GOP column in the late sixties and for the next couple generations. Nope — I’m NOT saying that all Republicans are racists, or even that most Republicans are racists. Just pointing out that much of the GOP was glad to absorb those voters who could not find it in their hearts to welcome integration and civil rights for all Americans. And as that switch-over occurred, the influence of the moderate to liberal Republican (yes, there was once such a thing!) declined precipitously.

    But back to a more important point: Archbishop Rummel is a profile in courage in the church’s history in America. The same could be said for Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis, who ordered Catholic schools and hospitals desegregated and who was, unfortunately, resisted by many Catholics struggling with the sin of bigotry.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    We can hope that the lady will either repent before life’s end, or be spared by God for her invincible ignorance.

    But the actual grounds of excommunication were not racism or support of segregation, but rather, their insistence that the bishop had no right to integrate Catholic schools under his powers as bishop. (And frankly, the bishop has the power to do a lot in his own diocese, whether or not you agree with it; and this wasn’t a mystery to Catholics of that time.) The bishop really did give them all the room in the world to retract just enough to get back into the Church, even without giving up their nastier opinions; but they wouldn’t do it.

  14. I guess you missed the Democrat “Northern Strategy” when integration via busing occurred in the North (e.g Boston) occurred in the 1970′s and the subsequent white flight from heavily Democrat cities of the north. To use your words, …. I am saying all Democrats are racist… LOL.

    “In the 26 major civil rights votes after 1933, a majority of Democrats opposed civil rights legislation in over 80 percent of the votes. By contrast, the Republican majority favored civil rights in over 96 percent of the votes.”

    Source: http://www.congresslink.org/civilrights/1964.htm

    More history to dispute your Southern Democrats becoming Republicans theory:

    Richard Russell, Mendell Rivers, Clinton’s mentor William Fulbright, Robert Byrd, Fritz Hollings and Al Gore Sr. remained Democrats till their dying day.

    Remember when Democrat Governor Orval Faubus (D-AR) deployed the Arkansas National Guard to block the Little Rock Nine from attending school?

    Who was it that sent in the 101st Airborne Division to enforce integration?

    President Eisenhower, a Republican.

  15. edit = Should be ” I am *not* saying all Democrats are racist.”

  16. Yeah, George — Eisenhower did that. And he was a moderate Republican. Far too moderate for his vice president’s taste (according to most biographies), far too moderate for Joe McCarthy’s tastes, far too conservative probably for Rick Santorum’s taste, or Sarah Palins. You’ve probably noticed how infrequently Republicans today mention Eisenhower’s name — despite his heroic role in WWII and his leadership during the Cold War. Ike’s brand of moderation and conciliation on social issues doesn’t earn him many points among “severely conservative” Republicans (to use the presumptive nominee’s phrase).

    And Byrd, etc., generally managed to evolve. No one would characterize Byrd as a conservative at the end of his career. (Check out his speech against the Iraq War, for starters.) People are capable of change, fortunately. Yet sometimes politicians DO play to the crowd and embrace people’s prejudice rather than challenge it. Sad.

  17. I am sorry Steve. The hyocrisy is too great.

    Had any Republican Senator revealed that he was an “Exalted Cyclops” in the KKK or refused to join the military because he might have to serve alongside “race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds,” (according to a letter Byrd wrote to Sen. Theodore Bilbo at the height of World War II)….

    Exactly how long would that Republican last in the Senate?

    Yet Byrd was the one the longest serving Democrats and beloved by his fellow Dems and the liberal media as evidenced by the eloquent obituaries.

  18. Although the Republican party was a minority in the South, all Southern Republicans then in Congress voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A few courageous Southern Democrats in Congress voted for the Civil Rights Act. And of course the Deep South states promptly reacted to Johnson’s signing the Act by going for the GOP and its standard bearer, Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Act, for the first time since Reconstruction and have continued to do so almost without exception until the present day.

  19. Thanks to Deacons Stoltz and Kandra for bringing this to light. I will definitely save this entry and study more this fascinating piece of American Catholic history … along with the example of Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis which “Steve” brought to light.

    Here’s my “take away” on this story: What if Catholic bishops today in the US were to follow the example of Rummel and Ritter and use the same strategy towards pro-abortion Catholic political leaders? Rummel and Ritter demonstrated considerable courage for their time in excommunicating powerful Catholic politicians in their dioceses. I wonder who among today’s US bishops will take a page out of this history lesson and do the same with Biden, Sebelius, Pelosi, Cuomo and company ?

  20. Hello all. Mrs. B.J. Gaillot Jr. is my grandmother. Not only is she very much alive and well, she also is of sane mind. I love sitting down with her and listening to her life story. I respect her for the amazing woman she is, but my beliefs are not the same as hers. She has NEVER set foot in ANY church, no matter the denomination. She has the same beliefs today just as much as she did the, and she lets it be known. I was with her just hours ago, and can’t wait to see her tomorrow. If there are any questions, she would gladly accept them. Post here, and I will be sure to deliver. Thanks.

  21. Fiergenholt says:

    You know, I have an entire file-folder of news clips on this whole story — some of which were copies provided by the archivist of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. One of these clips includes a picture of her and maybe a few more folks kneeling in the vicinity of Archbishop Rummel — and he is deliberately and obviously ignoring her.

    Because of that, I always got the impression Mrs Gaillot was a ROMAN CATHOLIC — otherwise, why would she show that kind of respect? OR, if “respect” was not the issue — why did she kneel in prayer. During that era in the Deep South, only Roman Catholics kneeled in prayer! Here, however, “BJG” said: “She has NEVER set foot in ANY church, no matter the denomination.” Really?

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