Locations: At Home in the Ghettos

Talk of “the Catholic ghetto” often shrouds awareness that America, including in its “mainline,” is made up of many little ghettos. This was Marty’s 1981 presidential address to the American Catholic Historical Association.


Two Images In American History

“I am in the final agonies of getting out a belated paper.” Since the paper in question was due only two days later, Frederick Jackson Turner with those words was expressing what may be the one universal trait of historians: panic over deadlines. Turner wrote them in a letter from a dormitory at the new University of Chicago while his wife and friends toured the Worlds Columbian Exposition. On the afternoon of July 12, 1893, two days having passed after he drafted the letter, he again closed himself off while his friends attended Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. That hot evening, after five dull and deadly papers, he read to a dozing crowd and indifferent press his renowned paper on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” Turner had pondered the thesis already for several years. His paper stamped the image of the frontier on historians’ minds as the most vivid and controversial in American historiography.(l)

No biographer has yet told us how Father John Tracy Ellis spent his days toward mid-May of 1955. But on May 14, 1955, at Maryville College in St. Louis, Ellis produced the most vivid and controversial image in American Catholic historical writing. With his speech on “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life,” Ellis confronted the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs. Not until thirty-four journal pages and who knows how many minutes of oral presentation had passed did Ellis almost casually introduce a spatial image to match Turner’s. American Catholics, he said, had experienced “a pervading spirit of separatism from their fellow citizens of other religious faiths. They have suffered from the timidity that characterizes minority groups, from the effects of a ghetto they themselves fostered.” Historian Ellis charged that Catholic scholarly defects resulted from “their frequently self-imposed ghetto mentality which prevents them from mingling as they should with their non-Catholic colleagues.”(2)


The Ghetto Controversy

Popular historian Robert Leckie chose a sonic image to describe the Ellis effect, especially after Thought disseminated the paper in its Autumn 1955 issue. “Ellis’s manifesto, as it came to be called,” Leckie wrote, “rocked the American Catholic community in an unprecedented earthquake of controversy.”(3) Ellis himself seems to have made less use of the image in later writings than did many other Catholics. In his revised general history called American Catholicism in 1969 he only casually and generically treated the “respective ghettos” of earlier American peoples, and then moved on.(4)

What is a ghetto? In 1933 the canonical Oxford English Dictionary gave it only fourteen words: “The quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted.” At that time only one Oxford English Dictionary literary citation, dated 1897, was metaphoric. It referred to “the veriest Ghetto of bookland.” But the dictionary’s supplement volume in 1972 reckoned with the increasingly frequent generic uses and added the definition: “an isolated or segregated group, community, or area.” The citations now included reference to the suburb as a ghetto (1961), to Harvard and M.I.T. as intellectual ghettos (1968), and twice, once from America (1968) and once from England (1969), to “the Catholic ghetto” and the Catholic “ghetto mentality.” Father Ellis, with whom the best known use is identified but who may not have originated the notion, receives no credit. He is probably happy not to be credited with the now-licit but inelegant verbal forms in the O.E.D., “to ghetto,” “ghettoed,” “ghettoize.”

The “unprecedented earthquake of controversy” after Ellis included the charge by English professor Donald B. King in The Catholic World a year later that the “vague and imprecise” terms ghetto complex and ghetto mentality were terms of “obvious opprobrium.” Ghetto, thought King, was in such cases “in fact, an exceptionally nasty smear word, and like most smear words is a slothful substitute for detailed and reasoned argument.” It implied that “the segregation and isolation from the rest of the community must often have caused in the inhabitants of a ghetto an ignorance and lack of concern about many of the problems of the community as a whole.”(5)

Four months earlier in America, Father Thurston N. Davis was more jocular and then more helpful.

If there is any truth in the charge that American Catholics are living in a ghetto, they have at least made up their minds to get out of it True a recent advertisement in a diocesan newspaper read: “WHY NOT HAVE A CATHOLIC DO YOUR TERMITE WORK?” But most U.S. Catholics, I believe, smile at this sort of thing. . . .

Here and there in this broad land there may be a catsup-eater who prefers to live with his termites until he can locate a Catholic exterminator, but by and large we have no hankering after the ghetto. In fact, the ‘idea of a Catholic ghetto strikes us as being just about as funny as Lutheran toothpaste or Baptist bourbon.

Davis also quoted with favor a comment by sociologist Father Albert S. Foley in The McAuley Lectures of 1955:

The old walls of the immigrant ghettos of the last century have come tumbling down. Their dual buttresses—on the one side the repelling of the foreign-sounding immigrant by the nativists, and on the other, the ethnocentric withdrawal into group-preserving but narrow circles—are losing the remnants of their support. The strong Catholic of the present day is seeking to rise to the challenge of life in the real world of the community.(6)

While Ellis restricted his image to American Catholic intellectual life, it soon was applied to social behavior. Thus in a popular paperback Don Brophy and Edythe Westenhaver could take the ghetto image for granted and subhead a chapter “The Ghetto Collapses.” In their The Story of Catholics in America (1978), the ghetto was “the walled city that symbolized the experience of Catholic life in America.” They noted that the metaphor “applies both to the Catholic mentality and the way Catholics actually lived their lives.”(7)

Daniel Callahan stressed this feature:

In [the Catholic ghettos, the immigrant] could find those who spoke his language, shared his religion, ate the same foods, and were, like him, struggling to better their economic lot. While these ghettos did have the advantage of helping him make the transition from the old country to the new, they also kept him tied to his old culture for a far longer time than if he had been thrown immediately into the strange life of a growing America. . . . and, once established within a sheltering ghetto, it was psychologically difficult [for immigrants] to uproot themselves once more to start a new life again on the American frontier.(8)

Whether or not Pope Pius XII, who lived near the original and classic ghettos, had the American controversy in mind, he did reflect on misuses of the notion of shelter in his Christmas address in 1957: “There are some even who hint that it is Christian prudence to return to the so-called modest ambitions of the period of the catacombs”; this notion he opposed.(9)

The history of the ghetto image in Catholic usage tells much about the changes of mood in Catholic life during the past quarter century. When apologists for Catholic behavior and critics of the encircling WASP cultures wanted to reinforce and legitimate Catholic group-bonding, they accented the ways in which ghetto life was imposed on minorities. This Ellis did only briefly, when he said that the “aloof and unfriendly” American intellectual climate had discouraged Catholics, led them to slacken their efforts, and prompted this “minority to withdraw into itself and to assume the attitude of defenders of a besieged fortress.”(10)

At other times during the domestic aggiornamento that followed the Second Vatican Council, however, a self-deprecating, indeed sometimes almost masochistic view of the tradition prevailed. Then the ghetto was seen not as imposed from without but self-imposed from within. Angry James Colaianni typically wrote that “Ghettoism suffocates. It is just another jail man builds for himself to keep from becoming free.”(11) Some such critics were romantic about the surrounding glories of the secular city, naive in their neglect of the role of intimate community in human life, and scornful of ancestors whose ways they could never understand or emulate.

Garry Wills graphically summarized the ghetto way in a time and with a tone that allowed for more nostalgia and empathy:

Bingo, large families, fish on Friday, novenas . . . , clouds of incense . . . , car blessings . . . , Dies Irae on All Souls . . . , the sign of the cross before a foul shot . . . , food-chiseling in Lent . . . , tribal rites, superstitions, . . . and, all of them, insignia of a community. These marks and rites were not so much altered, refined, elevated, reformed, transfigured as—overnight—erased. This was a ghetto that had no one to say ‘Catholic is Beautiful’ over it. Men rose up to change this world who did not love it—demented teachers, ready to improve a student’s mind by destroying his body. Do we need a culture? Only if we need a community, however imperfect. Only if we need each other.(12)

Whatever view they held of it, most historians joined David O’Brien in assuming that “events of the 1960s shattered forever the social and psychological bases of’ ‘ghetto Catholicism.'”(13) With him, they and many colleagues in Catholic faith have engaged in acts of selective retrieval from the ghetto ruins, in a time when tradition once again receives more attention than it did early after the Council.


The “The” Culture and the Ghettos

What shall we make of the ghetto image today? Lest there be confusion about my premises, I could come up with a match for the bumper sticker which reads, “I SUPPORT THE FRONTIER THESIS,” and say that “I SUPPORT THE GHETTO THESIS.” The claim that it existed and the fact that it was both imposed and self-imposed seems incontrovertible. Now to go beyond mere support of the thesis, it is important to say first that ghetto existence is not the only thing to observe. American Catholicism was American already in impressive ways during the very years when the ghetto took shape before the turn of the century and it was Catholic in ways that never permitted believers in the United States to close themselves off entirely from the world church. If Catholicism was more than a ghetto, it was also less than a ghetto. American Catholic life was broken into numberless subghettos along national, regional, and ideological lines at the turn of the century. All these are deserving of notice on other days and in other forums.

My thesis is that while Catholicism often did nurture ghetto existence, it was by no means unique in its relative isolation from a putative Protestant-secular world which I shall henceforth call “The Culture.” Surrounding the Catholic version were so many other religious, national, and ideological ghettos that they cast the Catholic ghetto in a less distinctive light. Their presence forces us to reconsider whether the The Culture was not in many ways a larger and more expansive ghetto itself.

The discovery of “all the other ghettos” is not new. In one of the more systematic treatments of the subject, a chapter on “The Ghetto Culture,” John Cogley noted that Catholicism was only “the best organized and most powerful of the nations subcultures,” in the face of “unchallenged Protestant dominance” and “liberal secular establishments.” But even his cautious presentation contributes to the picture of the Catholic ghetto as especially problematic for its inhabitants and heirs.(14)

This picture of the Catholic ghetto among all the other ghettos runs counter, then, to the idea that there was a simple, inclusive, majority form of The Culture which grudgingly tolerated and sometimes oppressed a minority subculture or two. In his address at St. Louis in 1955 John Tracy Ellis did not develop this theme. He merely and casually referred to “the American intellectual climate.” At least once he was more specific and referred to the reputedly cosmopolitan culture, using the image of “the green wood of New England Protestantism” in contrast to “the dry in the small and despised community of American Catholicism.” The “green wood” culture in his address included the world from which the Brownsons and Heckers had come as converts; it was the world of Henry Adams, Harvard and Chicago and Yale, the business elites and the population (only 3.8 percent Catholic in 1927) of Who’s Who in America, and the world of scientists in which Catholics were almost unrepresented.(15)

Of course there was a set of population cohorts from which the non-Catholic 96.2 percent in Who’s Who came. But when one begins to walk into that mentioned “green wood,” it is clear that it shrouds from view and houses many other ghettos—now we probably should call them shtetls—and that to many in non-Catholic subcultures, ghettos, or shtetls, that green wood The culture did not at all serve as the dominator or integrator of life. To them it would have been also one more ghetto or set of ghettos among the ghettos.


Conflict Within the Ghettos

The majority culture, as Ellis and others conceived it, was itself no single entity. Insofar as it was made up of what someone called “the brain-working families of the northeast,” it was usually busier contending with contention in its own ranks than with outsiders in remote ghettos. In the The Culture the Adamses fought the Jameses or, better, the Adamses fought the Adamses and the Jameses fought the Jameses, just as the Polish Catholics fought the Irish or German Catholics in their Wisconsin ghettos, or, better, just as the Polish Catholics fought the Polish Catholics there. William James in the lofty Cambridge culture often appreciated what he knew of Catholic existence and only rarely scorned a Protestant subculture like that of the Salvation Army. He saved his disdain for the up-close Boston Unitarians at Harvard or the modernizing Anglo-Saxon liberal clergy that were so close to home. In all these respects, the The Culture and the subcultures bore the marks of what anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski once observed and we have noted, that aggression like charity begins at home and that the smaller the cooperating group, the more intense the conflicts, the more easily the flare-ups occur.(16)

Historians of intergroup relations who have concentrated on the anti-Semitism of some Populists or Henry Adams, or on the anti-Catholicism of the nativist American Protective Association at the turn of the century, do have virulent and potent topics on their hands. But they often miss the dynamics of ghetto existence. One sees more vitriol and hears more vituperation, for example, in conflicts between Catholic Americanists and anti-Americanists, Ukrainian Uniates and Ukrainian Orthodox, Czech Catholics and Czech freethinkers, Catholic traditionalists and Catholic modernists, within their ghettos, than between any and all of them, say, the American Protective Association. Sociologist Georg Simmel seems to have been right, at least in the American historical instance; “People who have many common features often do one another worse or ‘worser’ wrong then complete strangers do.”(17)

Of course, people in many ways transcend ghetto mentalities and existence. American Catholics, as patriotic Americans, united massively in support of even a dubious war against “Catholic” peoples in 1898 and, even if they were German Catholics, against Germans in 1917. And sometimes the Catholic ghetto was held together by the threat of the outsider. Simmel had a word for that process, too, even if Ellis did not make it the prime feature in forging ghetto solidarity.

The group in a state of peace can permit antagonistic members within it to live with one another in an undecided situation because each of them can go his own way and can avoid collisions. A state of conflict, however, pulls the members so tightly together and subjects them to such uniform impulse that they either must get completely along with, or completely repel, one another. This is the reason why war with the outside is sometimes the last chance for a state ridden with inner antagonisms, or else to break up definitely.(18)

It may well be that those responsible for the almost instant demise of the neo-nativist American Protective Association in the 1890s did the Catholic ghetto a disservice. More recently, the ineffectiveness of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State to thwart the presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy and the general decline of anti-Catholicism in the The Culture may have done as much as the internal changes occasioned by the Second Vatican Council to cause Catholic ghetto walls to crumble.


Cosmopolitanism and Ghettos

The two decades before and after the turn of the century provide the best occasion for observing the Catholic ghetto alongside “all the other ghettos.” Non-Anglo-Saxon, often Catholic, peoples had arrived in force by 1880 but kept coming with new forces through World War I, until the exclusionary legislation of 1924. These were the decades when it was natural for peoples to feel the ghetto walls imposed around them and to choose their self-imposition—to the point that residents of each ghetto tended to overlook the presence of so many others.

Thus in 1893, in the same building—now the Chicago Art Institute—where at another congress Frederick Jackson Turner had delivered his address on the frontier thesis, avant-garde, ecumenical, and interreligious representatives of many communities held the World’s Parliament of Religions. In the hyperbole that goes with Worlds Fairs, Alfred W. Momerie of London announced in advance that the cosmopolitan Parliament was “the greatest event so far in the history of the world, and it has been held on American soil.” The most notable scholar of religion at the time. Max Muller, stayed in England, but observed only slightly less awefully that it was “one of the most memorable events in the history of the world.”(19) On that occasion swamis, gurus, rabbis, bishops, a cardinal, laypeople, bureaucrats, and scholars all came out of their ghettos to participate in a kind of interghetto, interreligious interchange. Alongside some representatives of 49 million Protestants was James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, the best-known Catholic hierarch of the day, friend of U.S. presidents, and hardly a denizen of a ghetto. On the stage at Chicago such leaders modeled images of American life that transcended the ghetto. But back home and ; in back woods, back waters, and back precincts, there was less interaction and there was also more chaos.

This disparity became clear in the paper of H. K. Carroll, “In Charge of the Division of Churches, Eleventh [U.S.] Census.” In the mood of the day, Carroll tried to be ecumenical, universalizing, cosmopolitan, synthetic, and homogenizing. Yet the ghetto existence lurked behind his every observation.

There are so many religious bodies in America that it is desirable, if we would get a comprehensive idea of them, to arrange them, first, in grand divisions: secondly, in classes; and thirdly, in families. I would specify three grand divisions: 1. The Christian. 2. The Jewish. 3. Miscellaneous.

“Miscellaneous” turns out to be a series of ghettos, self-contained if not geographically isolated worlds. “Under the last head come the Chinese Buddhists, the Theosophists, the Ethical Culturists, some communistic societies and Pagan Indians.”

All of these groups, of course, had nothing in common with each other. The Buddhists were chiefly on the West Coast, the communistic societies spatially segregated themselves, and the Pagan Indians, three years after Wounded Knee, were almost all on remote reservations. Carroll also made life in Judaism sound too simple. “The Jewish division embraces simply the Orthodox and Reformed Jews.” And the Christians included “Catholics, Protestants, Latter Day Saints—all bodies not Jewish, Pagan or anti-Christian.”

Carroll found 143 Protestant denominations, but noted, in the spirit of Simmel and Malinowsi, “No denomination of Protestantism has thus far proved to be too small for division.” He was “reluctantly compelled to exclude one with twenty-one members” in his census reckoning.

It is the little bodies . . . that give religion in the United States such a divided aspect. If most of them were blotted out we should lose little that is very valuable, but much that is queer in belief and practice.

His homogenizing impulse was patent when he claimed that of the 14,037,417 Protestant members “all but 128,568 are evangelical” and thus, in a way, like-minded; “over ninety-nine per cent of Protestant communicants belong to evangelical denominations.” No wonder that Catholics of the day did and Catholic historians now often do look on the Protestant culture as a The Culture. In their eyes it was united and interactive, able to put constant pressure on Catholics to stay in the ghetto. But the statisticians view, which Carroll s was, tends to miss the flavor and feel of life in ghettos.(20)


Four True Outsiders

Carroll’s book-length expansion of the Parliament address got somewhat closer, but a ghetto’s eye view changes its aspect somewhat. Decency and terminological propriety compel one to begin a review of the other subcultures with the communities that best laid claim on the word ghetto, the Jews. In The Religious Forces of the United States Carroll accounted for 130,496 Jews in 533 organizations. His two subcommunities, Orthodox and Reformed, sound neat, but were not. Thus for Carroll, “In some cases the departure from orthodoxy is slight, as in worshiping with the hat off, the mingling of the sexes in the synagogue or temple, and the introduction of the organ and female choir.” Yet those “slight” differences pointed to utterly different worlds.(21)

Reform Judaism, for example, had as a spokesman Kaufmann Kohler, a rabbi who despised the ghetto and believed in an economic trickle-down view of ecumenism. “Religion is, at the outset, always exclusive and isolating. Commerce unites and broadens humanity” His attack on the ghetto continued: “Too long, indeed, have Chinese walls, reared by nations and sects, kept man from his brother, to rend humanity asunder.” Therefore, for “establishing the unity of mankind, trade has as large a share as religion.” To Orthodox and more moderate but more religious rabbis, Kaufmann Kohler lived in a ghetto of assimilated Jews.(22)

More defensive was Reform rabbi Joseph Silverman. When ghetto Jews were accused of exclusiveness and clannishness, with having “only tribal aspirations,” this was not because of contempt for the world around but the result of social barriers others imposed and, more positively, of the “utter abandon to the charm of home.”(23) Josephine Lazarus was more assertive: “When we are attacked as Jews, we do not strike back angrily, but we coil up in our shell of Judaism and entrench ourselves more strongly than before.” As an Enlightenment Jew, she added, “Away then with all the Ghettos and with spiritual isolation in any form.”(24)

When there were intrusions on the New York ghettos, these were rarely of an intellectual kind. Joseph Hoffman Cohn, boy evangelist, distributed proselytizing tracts in tenements, beginning on the first floor and working up. By the time he was back down, the speed-reading Jews pelted him from above with hot soup and bombarded him with pots, pans, and garbage. “Thus I learned that the next time I went into a tenement I must start on the top floor and work down.” The Chicago Moody Bible Institute “gospel wagon” that invaded ghettos was met with “an avalanche of watermelon rind, banana peelings, overripe tomatoes, and other edible fruit.” When Rabbi Jacob Joseph died, the procession took his body through Irish turf toward the Grand Street ferry. There it was ghetto versus ghetto, as Irish toughs, eschewing banana peelings and hot soup, went at the Jews with iron materials; two hundred were injured.(25)

Gentiles did keep pushing Jews back into their ghettos. Naturalist John Burroughs, in response to a query by a Jewish magazine, wrote, “the Jew will be a Jew; he will not fuse or amalgamate with the other races.” And Harpers Weekly complained that “The Jews don’t want to merge. They prefer to be a part, belonging to the whole, but not merged into it.”(26) This was the language of assimilation which Catholics in ghettos kept hearing. But it came from other Jewish ghettos as well. The best-known Reform rabbi of those decades, Isaac Mayer Wise, attacked the Orthodox and other new Eastern European immigrants to Lower East Side New York ghettos: “We are Americans and they are not. . . . We are Israelites of the nineteenth century and a free country, and they gnaw the dead bones of past centuries.”(27) Any Orthodox Jew who wasted time fighting back against Anglo-Saxon anti-Semites when given such a target within Judaism would have been simply beside the point.

Alongside Catholic and Jewish ghettos, there were other sets of people in even more exclusive enclaves, most notably among these athe original Americans, the Indians. Carroll had to dismiss themwithin parentheses: “(The pagan Indians are not included in the census, and no account is made of them here.)”(28) The reservation “was an absolute demarcator for these people who were not even citizens.” In his years there were people like Richard Henry Pratt who protested the reservation model which “prolongs the massing, inactive, herding systems” and “continues to lead to destruction and death” through “this whole segregating and reservating process.” Some outsiders did want to break up the reservation ghettos. One agent knew that religion bonded the Native Americans: “As long as Indians live in villages they will retain many of their old and injurious habits. Frequent feasts, heathen ceremonies and dances, constant visiting—these will continue as long as people live together in close neighborhoods and villages.”(29)

So there were assimilators, like agent Thomas Jefferson Morgan, who wanted Indians to graduate from the schools thoroughly Americanized, safely out of their reservation ghettos, “speaking the same language . . . loving the same institutions, loyal to the same flag, proud of the same history, and acknowledging the one God the maker of us all.” Since Morgan did not think residents of the Catholic ghetto were capable of taking part in this sameness, he, incidentally, became a notorious anti-Catholic.(30)

It almost goes without saying that the Native Americans therefore made up another large kind of ghetto. A man who was to become a president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, put his seal on their status back in 1888 when he wrote,

I suppose I should be ashamed to say that I take the Western view of the Indian. I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are. … I shouldn’t inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.(31)

Roosevelt in 1905 did just once host a commuter between a fourth ghetto and the The Culture when he invited the docile Booker T. Washington to lunch in the White House and drew criticism for it. Washington was acceptable because he knew his place, which was in the ghetto of rural southland and, increasingly, urban America. The years when the Catholic ghetto took decisive shape were also the years around 1896, the Plessy v. Ferguson case, when “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites gave legal sanction to the enforced ghetto approach.

The Chicago Methodist Northwestern Christian Advocate might bemoan the ghetto trend, because “separate sections in our cities, separate churches, and in some instances separate schools for separate nationalities or races, exist at the behest of race prejudice.” But this was a minority voice as the North in the decades at the turn of the century adopted the southern Reconstruction patterns of imposed segregation. At the same time, the pariah blacks in their churches were imposing segregation on themselves. The southern churches were almost in unanimous support of this policy. Thus the Christian Index in 1892 spoke for the ghetto, “Let each know his place, stay in it, and do his duty there, and we shall have no trouble, otherwise, there will be conflict, bloodshed, extinction.” The Alabama Baptist in 1900 urged that the black, also in religion, “stay absolutely in his own sphere, and let us manfully, religiously and patriotically maintain our dignity, supremacy and social status in our own sphere.” And in 1908 the Christian Advocate quoted Methodist pastor S. A. Steele, “We will keep the Negro in his place if we have to dig his grave.”(32) H. K. Carroll accounted for the numbers of Baptists and Methodists who were black and in black churches, but conveyed not a hint of the segregation burden Nor could he tell the now familiar story of intraghetto warfare as the church leaders fought over the meager spoils within segregated black Methodist and Baptist church life.

Numerically no match for the other three truly excluded sets of people, the Jews, Indians, and blacks, were the Asians in their “Chinatowns,” ghettos if there ever were any in America. Carroll counted 107,475 Chinese in the United States in the 1890 census, of whom 72,472 were in California. He puzzled over the statistics of temple participation and blandly told of temple worship. But the census now showed no awareness of the way Asiatics were forced into spatial and social segregation, or of the murders, massacres, fires, and harassments that were worked upon them or that they inflicted on each other. Together they were no part of a The Culture that could work negative effects on Catholics. As California State Controller John S. Chambers said after the Japanese “invasion” of his state, “As these people stay apart socially, industrially, politically, so do they religiously.”(33) With good reason.


Catholic Ghettos and the Catholic Ghetto

Further assault on the notion that Catholics nurtured a ghetto mentality in isolation from the rest of an interactive America comes from the understanding of enclave life among other peoples whom Carroll also called Catholic. When the Census of 1890 was taken, there were too few for anyone to hold Carroll accountable for them. He did find 10,850 Uniates, 13,504 Russian Orthodox, 100 Greek Orthodox, 335 Armenians, hardly enough to make up a corner of a ghetto.(34) But by the end of the period of ghetto formation these peoples numbered in the many hundreds of thousands. They were distinctive as the only Christian groups that began with a West Coast presence, in Alaska and then Washington, Oregon, and California, before they were at home in the eastern cities and mining areas. They had no Cardinal Gibbons to represent them, no base for transaction with other Americans, and remained—and to many, remain—an arcane presence in residual ghettos more durable than Roman Catholic ones. Carroll knew little of them, just as most non-Eastern Orthodox people do not nine decades later.

The Eastern Orthodox complex was a ghetto of ghettos, each divided, each a self-contained world of recipes, language, memory, and hope. Thus one observer noted that “each Serbian Church community made its own regulations, hiring and firing the parish priest at will. . . . There were no laws with which to regulate Serbian ecclesiastical life.” In the spirit of Malinowski and Simmel, they knew how to put their aggressive tendencies to work in intraghetto, not interghetto exchanges. Thus among Cleveland Romanians, six Farcas brothers, all bartenders, were able to create a schism. What a charming glimpse within the ghetto one gets to observe as the new priest, loan Podea, wrote regulations for his parish. They included one which insisted that no bartenders would be admitted to church membership.(35)

Even within Roman Catholicism a scrutiny of this period makes it difficult to speak of the Irish-German-Polish-Italian nexus as the Catholic ghetto which generated a Catholic mentality or ghetto complex. During the turn-of-the-century decades, for example, not the ghetto but the barrio prevailed in the Southwest. There “illegal aliens” made their way back to soil where Spanish people had the non-Indian monopoly a couple of centuries earlier.

In Santa Barbara a Pueblo Viejo served as the barrio form of ghetto. There, too, aggression began at home—not in defense against the Angles but over the sparse resources of the barrio. The battle lines were between Catholic cholos, newly arrived Mexicans, and phocos, the American-born Mexicans. Both lived with these terms of derision. In 1916 a new immigrant said, “There was not much contact” between the two sets, despite their cramped-together existence. The phocos “were a very standoffish people. They were very proud. . . . We didn’t like each other.” And a native-born Santa Barbaran in turn said, “You had two classes of people . . . Mexicans never wanted anything to do with the ‘phocos’!”(36)

By World War I El Paso, Texas, was a half-Mexican city of 80,000, an Ellis Island for Mexican immigrants. They gathered around St. Ignatius, St. Rosalie, Sacred Heart Church, and others. During the Mexican Revolution they learned what ghetto dwellers often did: that to look and be more American, whatever that meant, was advantageous. So they transcended the ghetto walls that they had earlier chosen or found imposed on them. J. A. Escajeda, who trained a sort of army of patrol officers to keep order said, “We are Americans; born and brought up under the Stars and Stripes and as loyal to it as any other American.” And in war, he said, his people were “ready to shoulder a rifle and march in the ranks with the American soldier who is of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic origin.”(37)

It is tempting to visit each Catholic subghetto to explore the ways the people spent their energies fighting each other more than fending off the outsider. Let one headline from an 1885 Milwaukee Sentinel speak its volumes for the kind of conflict that went on within ghettos Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. After a dispute over the capabilities and contract of an organist who also taught school at St. Hedwig’s Parish, the headline read: “Poles up in Arms, A Catholic Priest Gets into Hot Water. His House stormed by An Angry Congregation. Bloody Fracas Resulting in Smashed Heads, Destruction of Furniture and Many Arrests.” Yes, there was a ghetto mentality and complex.(38)


Protestant Ghettos

A critic might well say that one hardly enlarges the case as he points out that other marginal people, nonwhite, non-Protestant, shared ghetto existence and thus took away from the exclusivity of Catholic exclusivism. But various forms of ghetto existence characterized Protestant cultures and kept them from forming a simple The Culture of intellectual cosmopolitanism. That nationality had as much to do with exclusion as religion is clear from the isolation and self-segregation of non-English-speaking church groups, or heirs of continental immigrants. The largest of these clusters was the Lutherans, of whom Carroll in the 1890 census found 1,188,119. They grew to twice that number of communicants by the time of immigrant exclusions in 1924. Carroll found sixteen Lutheran groups. While he and the World s Parliament of Religions people met a few of the more public kinds of Lutherans they could hardly have understood not only how isolated most Lutheranism was from its neighboring culture, but how remote from each other the various Lutheran ghettos were.(39)

In 1914 Pastor George H. Gerberding boasted about the varieties that Lutheranism “is the most polyglot Protestant church in America. We like to boast that the Gospel is preached in Lutheran pulpits in more languages than were heard on the day of Pentecost,” he wrote. Then he went on to show how these tongues were a burden for those who sought a common Lutheran identity or an American presence. German Lutherans did suffer much in the period because of their ghetto status. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, almost hermetically enclosed in its ghetto and sustaining almost no formal ties to other Lutherans or non-Lutheran Christians, shunned the public order. Two exceptions occurred, first when they had to engage in self-defense during the time of the Bennett Laws in Wisconsin. Then they linked with German Catholics to fight for repeal of laws prohibiting German in the parochial schools. Second, they sent legates to Washington in efforts to prevent an American alliance with the Allies after 1914, against Germany. What the The Culture advocates thought of their agent, Dr. Friedrich Bente, was clear after Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, from the “green wood” New England Protestant culture, heard him testify: “Some of us are not hyphenates—we are just plain Americans—and the wrath of the members of the Committee, Democrats and Republicans, was pleasing to witness.” Lodge wrote Theodore Roosevelt that Bente’s accent was “so strong you could stumble over it.” (40)

Danes fought Danes and both fought Swedes and Norwegians and all fought Germans in the skirmishing within upper Midwest Lutheran ghettos. They argued over fine points of doctrine, a field in which the Missourians were preeminent wall-builders. A Wisconsin Synod paper wrote admiringly of Missouri, “Never has the pure doctrine of God’s Word been in uninterrupted control of one and the same church body for so long a time.” And Missouri theologian Friedrich Bente, commanding the ghetto gate, insisted that the Synod could never change nor could its teachings be criticized, for “that would be to accuse God Himself, indeed, to mock God, who has commanded that these very doctrines be taught.”(41)

Such language has to deal with the cognitive and intellectual sides of religious ghetto existence, but the behavioral ones received full attention as well. On that score, the Norwegian pietists from their rural ghettos scorned the heavy-drinking members of the Missouri Synod, which one recent historian called “the most thoroughly wet denomination in America, or in the world.”(42) In 1903 at the Synod’s Concordia Seminary in St. Louis students protested noisy beer parties. The school in response engaged in an act of discipline not against the topers but against a student who persisted in protesting their guzzling. The Missourians, fighting to protect their parochial schools, also wanted to keep Sunday schools out of their ghetto. An advocate argued that “a house divided against itself will not stand. This nation will not remain half slave and half free.” Missouri, if half schooled, half Sunday-schooled, could not stand or remain.(43)

All this ghetto activity was far removed from the Finnish Lutheranism which was isolated in the iron and copper country of northern Michigan. The inhabitants there paid no attention to Missourian doctrinal disputes. Each of their towns was torn between people with loyalties to the Lutheran church versus devotees of Marxist union hall, Lutheran paper and Communist paper, preacher and union organizer. Intraghetto contention there led to bloodshed and a Christmas Eve catastrophe that caused the death of seventy-four people.(44) These Lutherans were probably anti-Catholic, if someone asked them. They would have felt pressed upon by the secular-Protestant culture at large, if they knew about it. But they had issues of defense and aggression within their walls with which to deal. Seldom would they be aware of an issue like evolution, which agitated green wood Protestantism, and never with the writings of a William Dean Howells or an Edith Wharton. They came from another ghetto, far from view or influence.

English-speaking Protestants were segregated from interaction in the The Culture on religious lines, especially if they were in the new religious groups. Utah was a vast ghetto for Mormons; Battle Creek, Takoma Park, and Loma Linda became self-contained worlds for Seventh-Day Adventists. Jehovah’s Witnesses on creedal grounds cut themselves out of American society’s legitimation as a whole. Christian Science, born in the green wood of New England Protestantism, may not have been spatially segregated. But its followers used language that befuddled other people than Mark Twain, even if their words were in English.

More conventionally, there were stirrings within the orthodox Anglo-Saxon Protestant bodies which meant an erosion of denominational walls and the erection of “movement” ghettos. If Mormons, Adventists, Christian Scientists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, of common Anglo-Saxon, racial, national, and earlier religious stock, knew and cared little about the inner life of each others’ people, the same came to be true of huge minorities in Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and similar mainstream church groups.

Three movements illustrate this. Their ghettos were not of a physical or spatial sort. They were not segregated even in a religious Solid South or Bible Belt, or in the lower middle class from which so many came. But they were cut off by private religious language and concerns from the rest of Protestantism. I can only point to them now: Pentecostalism, born around 1900-1906 in Kansas and in Los Angeles on Azusa Street; dispensationalism and premillennialism with their language of “rapture” and “tribulation” and a whole way of life that pointed to Christ’s early return; fundamentalism, which began to acquire a name and was coming to be a party by 1925.

Each provided cradle-to-grave, morning-to-night, shelter in the form of words, meanings, values, and gestures. These kept fundamentalist Presbyterians in a ghetto apart from moderate Presbyterians, Pentecostal Wesleyans from mainstream Wesleyan Methodists, or premillennial Baptists from every other kind of Baptist. Each had its own set of celebrities and scholars, mentors and images. Not only could secular, Jewish, or Catholic Americans not find any of them comprehensible. Fellow denominational members not of their own party knew nothing of their language or rationale—nor did they visit each others’ ghettos with much frequency or in any spirit of congeniality. By 1894 the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal church were able to point to an adjective that anticipated the Pentecostal-holiness ghetto: “there has sprung up among us [Methodists] a party with holiness as a watchword; they have holiness associations, holiness meetings, holiness preachers, holiness evangelists, and holiness property.”(45) All outsiders were less holy or unholy

One could extend the list to show how a southern Protestant ghetto defined itself very sharply against green wood Protestantism. To its leaders, the agents of the presumed The Culture on Protestant soil were a ghetto of snobbish, compromising, modernizers. Let them unite in 1908 in a Federal Council of Churches or any other ecumenical agency that would try to overcome the ghetto life of Protestant sects—they would only erect a larger ecumenical ghetto. The liberals met resistance from conservative Southern Baptists, Anglo-Saxons all. What goings-on in a Catholic ghetto could attract notice of or comparable hysteria from someone as agitated about Protestant ghetto life as was the secretary of the Arkansas state Baptist convention, who wrote: “The colossal Union Movement is a colossal blunder, but it threatens us Baptists unmistakably. . . . Smite, smite, hip and thigh, the ‘bastard’ Union movement, dear preachers of God’s Book, by calling every Baptist soul under the reach of your prophetic voice to toe the denominational line and then show his faith by his fruits.”(46)


Are Mainline Protestants in a Ghetto?

What about the agents of Protestantism in the The Culture with its appearances of green wood at Harvard and Chicago? To the millions who followed evangelist Dwight L. Moody, these thousands held no privileged claim on the word Protestant or American. Their evolutionary optimism, progressivist metaphysics, and Christocentric universalism helped them form an enclave which had its own mentality and complex. Few of its celebrities were taken seriously by their secular counterparts. Not one of them had a mind to match the intellects of the new shapers of culture, people named William James, John Dewey, George Santayana, Charles S. Peirce, and the like. Today it is easier, in a more tribal time, to describe the plausibility of Pentecostalism than it is to get a young person back inside the world view of the modernist Protestants early in this century. The Social Gospel Protestants were evidently public figures, but actually inhabitants of a ghetto that was not fully recognized by true socialists or other preachers of the Gospel. Feminism and antifeminism in the early years of the century also made up similar separate worlds.

To speak of America on the model of a nation of nations, a people of peoples, or a ghetto of ghettos is not to exhaust its history or promise. Of course, there were interactions and causes other than the wars of 1898 and 1917 which pulled people toward common action. Of course, people in the privileged heritages of Protestantism and the Enlightenment dominated in many respects. In a time when many who express nostalgia for the ghetto are aware of tribal solipsisms around the world, it is refreshing to recall the already cited words of William Clancy, the Catholic lay leader, who in 1953 expressed a hope. “We may not, all of us, have grown used to the hazards of living within a pluralist culture,” we heard him say. But he hoped that, beyond nostalgia and with maturity, people would learn to lower voices and demands and raise their sense of vocations in the American time and place.(47)

I have tried to show that there was a Catholic ghetto made up of Catholic ghettos; that it was imposed and self-imposed; that it is best understood not in isolation from the The Culture but as being surrounded by other subcultures in similar ghetto forms; that ghetto existence does not explain everything about Catholicism or all the other ghettos. We know that selective retrieval of ghetto details belongs to what philosopher Ernest Gellner calls the “decor” of life more than to its substance, for intellectuals and the middle class. There are on the other hand reasons for alarm when the ghettoes of denominations, peoples, or doctrines are overcherished, as in some of the New Christian Right movements in our time. One side of the lives of most Americans is open to cosmopolitan images from commerce, entertainment, athletics, mass media, and higher education. The ghetto walls have crumbled considerably. But they still do obscure the views of the outsiders and they still do help provide coziness for the insiders. The hinges may creak, rust, and be loosening, but they are still there on gates which may no longer confine but which do still swing shut.

Just as American Catholic and other minds were in the ghetto, thus forming a ghetto mentality, so it may be said that something of the ghetto remains in the mind. I am aware that in a corner of my own, after describing America’s ghettoed life, a major intellectual issue remains for another day. That agenda is a call to explore, after this reconnaissance of subcultural ghettos, whether there really was a The Culture. If so, in what ways did it bear some marks of the ghetto, though now with leakier walls and wider gates?

It may be best to leave that thought in question form. Other forms of religiously based solidarity beckon. No one associates the word ghetto with them. For some the walls have to do with region, for some with ethos, for some with ideal. Three examples are evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Mormons. They wrestle with modernity and with historicity in vivid ways that inform the life of many and threaten the ethos and practices of more in our pluralist society. It is time to wrestle with them, their claims, their place.



  1. See Ray Allen Billington, Frederick Jackson Turner: Historian, Scholar, Teacher (New York, 1973), pp. 124-31. Turner mailed the letter July 16, after he had read the paper.
  2. John Tracy Ellis, “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life,” in Thought 30 (Autumn 1955), 385-386.
  3. Robert Leckie, American and Catholic (Garden City, N.Y, 1970), p. 323.
  4. John Tracy Ellis, American Catholicism, 2d ed., rev. (Chicago, 1969), p. 167. ‘
  5. Donald B. King, “Catholics and a Ghetto Mentality,” Catholic World 183 (September 1956), 424-27.
  6. Thurston N. Davis, “Five Live Problems of Catholics,” in America, vol. 95, no. 6 (May 12, 1956), pp. 158-59.
  7. Don Brophy and Edythe Westenhaver, eds. The Story of Catholics in America (New York, 1978), p. 123.
  8. Daniel Callahan, The Mind of the Catholic Layman, (New York, 1963), p. 32.
  9. “Pius XII on the ‘Ghetto,'” in America, vol. 98, no. 14 (January 11, 1958), p.408.
  10. Ellis, “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life,” p. 354.
  11. Quoted from a book by Colianni written in 1968, by James Hitchcock, The Decline and Fall of Radical Catholicism (Garden City, N.Y, 1972), p. 91.
  12. Quoted from an issue of Commonweal, March 27, 1970, p. 60, by Hitchcock, p. 93.
  13. David O’Brien, The Renewal of American Catholicism (New York, 1972), pp. 4-5.
  14. John Cogley, Catholic America (New York, 1973), chap. 7, “The Ghetto Culture,” especially pp. 168-69, 185.
  15. Ellis, “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life,” pp. 352, 362.
  16. Bronislaw Malinowski, “An Anthropological Analysis of War,” in Magic, Science and Religion (Glencoe, Ill., 1948), p. 285.
  17. Georg Simmel, Conflict, trans. Kurt H. Wolff (Glencoe, Ill., 1955), pp. 43-44.
  18. Ibid., pp. 87, 88.
  19. John Henry Barrows, The World’s Parliament of Religions (Chicago, 1893), p. 160, for Momerie: Muller is quoted in David F. Burg, Chicago’s White City of 1893 (Lexington, Ky., 1976), p. 285.
  20. H. K. Carroll, “The Present Religious Condition of America,” in Barrows, 2: 1162-65.
  21. H. K. Carroll, The Religious Forces of the United States (New York, 1893), pp. 161-62.
  22. Kaufmann Kohler, “Human Brotherhood as Taught by the Religions Based on the Bible,” in Barrows, 1: 367.
  23. Joseph Silverman, “Popular Errors about the Jews,” in Barrows, 2: 1121.
  24. Josephine Lazarus, “The Outlook of Judaism,” in Barrows, 2: 705.
  25. Joseph Hoffman Cohn, I Have Fought a Good Fight (New York, 1953), p. 42: for the Moody incident see Timothy Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming (New York, 1979), p. 145. On the Jewish-Irish ghetto conflicts, John Higham, Send These to Me: Jews and Other Immigrants in Urban America (New York, 1975), pp. 135-36.
  26. For the Burroughs and Harper’s Weekly quotations see Michael N. Dobkowski. The Tarnished Dream: The Basis of American Anti-Semitism (Westport, Conn., 1979), pp.146, 149.
  27. See Isaac Mayer Wise in The American Israelite 33, no. 31, p. 4 from January 28, 1887.
  28. Carroll, p. xxix.
  29. For the Pratt quotations, see Francis Paul Prucha, American Indian Policy in Crisis: Christian Reformers and the Indian, 1865-1900 (Norman, Okla., 1976), p. 183, and Elaine Goodale Eastman, Pratt: The Red Man’s Moses (Norman, Okla., 1935), p. 77.
  30. Thomas Jefferson Morgan, Studies in Pedagogy (Boston, 1889), pp. 327-28, 348-50.
  31. See Herman Hagedorn, Roosevelt in the Bad Lands (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921), p. 355.
  32. These four quotations are from Northwestern Christian Advocate 62 (April 23, 1913), 4-5; Christian Index, May 26, 1892; Alabama Baptist, April 26, 1900, p. 4; New York Christian Advocate, July 2, 1908, p. 1105.
  33. John S. Chambers, “The Japanese Invasion,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 93 (January 1921), 26-27.
  34. Carroll, pp. 79-82.
  35. The Farcas-Podea incident is in Gerald J. Bobango, The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America: The First Half Century, 1929-1979 (Jackson, Midi., 1979), pp. 20-21.
  36. Quoted by Albert Camarillo, Chicanos in a Changing Society (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), p. 189.
  37. Mario T. Garcia, Desert Immigrants: The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880-1920 (New Haven, 1981), p. 186, is the source of the Escajeda quotation.
  38. Milwaukee Sentinel September 21, 1885, quoted in Anthony J. Kuzniewski, Faith and Fatherland: The Polish Church War in Wisconsin, 1896-1918 (Notre Dame, Ind., 1980), p. 28.
  39. Carroll, pp. 175-205.
  40. See George H. Gerberding, Problems and Possibilities (Columbia, S.C., 1914), p. 171; Henry Cabot Lodge is quoted by C. S. Meyer, Moving, Frontiers: Readings in the History of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (St. Louis, 1964), p. 236.
  41. Friedrich Bente, Lehre und Wehre 50 (January 1904), 1-20, quoted by E. Clifford Nelson, ed., The Lutherans in North America (Philadelphia, 1975), p. 378.
  42. Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896 (Chicago, 1971), pp. 83-84.
  43. From an official address in 1912 by J. Wefel, quoted by Martin A. Haendschke, The Sunday School Story: The History of the Sunday School in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (River Forest, Ill., 1963), p. 26.
  44. On Finnish Lutheranism, see Arthur Edwin Puotinen, Finnish Radicals and Religion in Midwestern Mining Towns, 1865-1914 (New York, 1979); pp. 271-88 deal with the Christmas Eve violence.
  45. Journal of the General Conference (Southern Methodist Church, 1894), pp.25-26
  46. J. S. Rogers, “A Symposium by Southern State Secretaries on the Union Movement,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 3 (old series; January 1919), 23.
  47. From a Commonweal editorial in 1953, quoted by Cogley, p. 192.
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