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On July 2, 1828, four Black women met in a Baltimore rowhouse to pronounce

simple vows. When the ceremony was over, a new order of nuns

was born within the Catholic Church in a slave holding state.

 

 

Biography of

Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, O.S.P.

(1784-1882)

 

Born a slave on the isle of St. Domingue, Elizabeth date of birth is uncertain, though her death certificate of 1882 had her age at 98 years old. her coming to to the United States resulted, it seems, from the Haitian Revolution of 1791. This slave revolt led by Toussaint L'Overture focused threaten the lives of plantation owners as well as their property. Along with many whites, many free mulattoes also fled the island. some of the refugees sought safety on the nearby islands in the Caribbean, others set sail for such cities as Charleston, Norfolk, and Baltimore. Elizabeth may indeed have spent time in both Charleston and Norfolk, before she arrived in Fells Point (Baltimore).

She worshiped initially in the lower Chapel of St. Mary's seminary (reserved for Negroes and slaves). She was a friend of monsieur Moranville, who was pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Fells Point. It was to this priest that Elizabeth Lange first expressed desires to consecrate her life to God as a religious.

Before the founding of St. Francis Academy and the Oblate Sisters of Providence (OSP), three direct records mention her secular life. In 1813, she enrolled in the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary and then the Confraternity of Mary, help of Christians, in 1817, she enrolled in the Holy Scapular Confraternity.

On July 2, 1828, four Black women met in a Baltimore rowhouse to pronounce simple vows. When the ceremony was over, a new order of nuns was born within the Catholic Church in a slave holding state. Elizabeth had four strikes against her: 1) a Black in a slave holding state; 2) a woman in a man-dominated society, 3) a Catholic in a Protestant nation; and 4) an alien speaking French in an English city.

Elizabeth Lange, however, was a spiritual and spirited woman. She was a woman of strong determination, willing to overcome all obstacles. The early works of the Oblate Sisters grew out of Elizabeth's willingness to serve the church and to serve her people.

In Baltimore, there were many Black refugees from Santo Domingo. She wanted to provide educational opportunities for these children and young women and help to pass on traditions of a land they had left behind.

Fortunately, Providence provided Elizabeth with friends and benefactors who, like herself, were foreign to American soil and themselves victims of violence from other revolutions. Such persons knew well the meaning of cultural transition.

She sought spiritual direction from the President of St. Mary's College. Her interest was the education for free black girls, a school that would include music, the classics, and fine arts in the curriculum. The school records of 1830s and 40s show the students involved in choirs, concerts, and recitals. To direct her students to strive for excellence medals and awards were given in various subjects.

Yearly, examinations were given by faculty members from St. Mary's College and later by the Jesuits from Loyola College. In 1828, it is recorded that Elizabeth took in three children to be educated free. Later, when news reached the sisters that two girls were motherless, Elizabeth went to the house and brought the children to the convent. One year after the establishment of the order, the sisters began taking in widows and elderly women who had no place to go in their old age.

During the cholera epidemics in Baltimore, Elizabeth and the sisters worked in the almshouse caring for the Black inmates.

From account books and ledgers of the school, we can measure Elizabeth Lange's business skills. The annals show payments of those benefactors who provided scholarships for the students. The diaries show the method of payment and one entry called for a meeting to discuss new accounting procedures.

Her school provided vocational training for students, which included household arts such as fine serving and embroidery. their skills were put to use in the business of making vestments for church services.

Scripture and religious instruction were offered to the young ladies as a legacy to pass on to others. Elizabeth opened her church doors to all for masses, benediction and other spiritual gatherings. However, Elizabeth's church was for Black Catholics and the last six pews were reserved for White persons.

Hardships of a special nature entered Elizabeth's life in the 1840s. The director died. Many of the French friends moved elsewhere. The financial picture was so bad that Elizabeth took in washing and ironing to support the sisters and orphans.

Father Eccleston, then Archbishop of Baltimore, a native Marylander and his family slave owners, though aware of the poverty of the sisters, ordered then to disband . Elizabeth Lange said "No!" During the mid-19th century, one can imagine the "shocked" Catholic population was when a Black woman refused to obey a White Bishop. Though public opinion was on the side of the Archbishop, the archbishop did not use his power to dissolve the community.

Born near Chestertown, Maryland, Samuel Eccleston became at thirty-three (October 19, 1834) the youngest archbishop in the history of Baltimore (1834-18510. he attended Baltimore's St. Mary's college, a lay department of St. Mary's Seminary. becoming a priest, he joined the Sulpicians and spent two years after ordination at their headquarters outside of Paris. he returned to Baltimore in 1827 and become vice-president of St. Mary's college, its president, coadjutor, and successor of Archbishop Whitfield. During his rule, five provincial councils were held, and St. Charles' Minor Seminary was founded.

Elizabeth Lange was a determined woman. That determination was a combination of faith and hope which provided her with the courage to act with conviction. She used this power to create new opportunities for Black people. But there was also an orphanage, a widow's home, spiritual direction, bible school, vocational training. the early sisters did home visiting, conducted a night school so that adult Black could learn to read and write.

When the Civil War was over, Baltimore was flooded with an abundance of Black war orphans. Elizabeth Lange gathered sixty of them and began a new era of working with destitute children.

Looking back at history, one knows Elizabeth Lange as a religious pioneer. A careful study of her life, shows Elizabeth as a social radical--a religious radical. it was not easy to be a free Black teaching within the confines of the Catholic Church. At that time in history, there were theologians arguing in Rome that Black people have no souls.

On this side of the Atlantic, there was the Archbishop telling Elizabeth to disband her community and become servant girls. After the death of the first director, the sisters had no one to minister to them spiritually. Deaths in the community were frequent. Elizabeth, humanly speaking, had to grow weary and tired. A striking blow came when one of her original four members of the order abandoned the order.

Sister Theresa, a blue-eyed blond mulatto, left Baltimore for Monroe, Michigan. Sister Theresa established a school and a new order of nuns. Both institutions founded by Sister Theresa became white organizations. Within a year, another of Elizabeth Lange's sisters left for the greener pastures of Michigan. A third nun had intended to follow the path to Michigan. However, while preparing to move westward, she received a letter saying, "do not come for you are too dark of colour."

There were Catholics who thought it disgraceful that Black women should wear a "holy habit." There were those who physically threatened the sisters. Elizabeth Lange knew triumph, but she also knew ridicule. there were two incidents when an angry mob broke down the front door.

In the 1860s, while teaching in Philadelphia, the sisters were repeatedly forced from the sidewalks. Elizabeth, at times, experienced many setbacks. each apparent failure and success were steps in the accomplishment of His work. Elizabeth did not despair or become despondent. She had the combination of faith and hope. She knew that He who cares for the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air, would provide for her and her sisters and her students.

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: . . .—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . .

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 4 May 2012

 

 

 

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