The Knights of Columbus from its earliest history stressed the importance of welcoming Catholic men of all backgrounds.
Below, are some of the many ways the Knights of Columbus has welcomed everyone regardless of race.
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1) A founding member said the Order’s purpose was to welcome all Catholic men.
“It was designed to unify American Catholic citizens of every national and racial origin in a social and fraternal organization, giving scope and purpose to their aims as Catholics and as Americans, whether in developing the social and fraternal spirit that should exist among those who are sons of the same Church and citizens of the same republic, or in furthering great educational and religious enterprises undertaken by the Church in America.” – Daniel Colwell
2) Samuel F. Williams, the first recorded African-American member of the Order, was welcomed in 1895.
Williams belonged to a literary club that founded a new K of C council in Southborough, Mass., because they wanted to be part of an organization that was both charitable and social.
A year after forming the council, Williams addressed the Massachusetts Knights’ State Convention, an address that was later published in the Columbiad, a predecessor to today’s Columbia magazine.
3) Knights assisted World War I personnel regardless of race or creed.
During World War I, the Knights of Columbus provided recreation centers for servicemen under the banner “Everybody Welcome, Everything Free.” All were welcome at these centers regardless of race or creed, decades before the U.S. military was integrated.
4) The Knights commissioned and published The Gift of Black Folk by NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois.
Forty years before the Civil Rights Act, the Order published this landmark book presenting the contributions of black Americans throughout the country’s history.
5) Supreme Knight Luke Hart joined President Kennedy at a meeting of religious leaders at the White House to discuss ways to eliminate racial discrimination.
A few months later, the Knights donated $25,000 for lodging so that Catholic clergy could attend Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
6) In honor of the famous civil rights leader, Council 6135 was formed in Harlem, N.Y., in the 1960s and named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Supreme Knight John W. McDevitt visited the council to celebrate its inauguration.
7) One supreme knight threatened to move an international convention because the hotel would not permit black guests.
Shortly before the Knights’ 1964 Supreme Convention in New Orleans, Supreme Knight McDevitt learned that the hotel hosting the convention was segregated and admitted only white guests. When McDevitt threatened to relocate the convention, the hotel began welcoming black guests that very day.
8) A priest performed a marriage for an interracial couple, for which he was shot and killed by a Klansman.
In August 1921, Father James Coyle, chaplain of a Knights of Columbus council in Birmingham, Alabama, performed a marriage between the daughter of a Methodist minister and a Catholic from Puerto Rico. Later that day the bride’s father, a Klansman, shot and killed Father Coyle on the porch of St. Paul’s rectory.
Father Coyle had also spoken and written prolifically in defense of the Church amid the persecution of Catholic in the region. Father Coyle is remembered as a model of faith and courage.
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