BARROW: The sin of racism and the stain that remains

July 14, 2020

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say! — One, two. Why, then,’ tis time to do’ t. Hell is murky! — Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?”
— Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Act 5, scene 1

I still have a copy of Macbeth from my high school in Opelousas, Louisiana, and although the pages are frayed, a few of them torn, some words still speak volumes to me. Twenty-eight years later, the words of Lady Macbeth stand out regarding her vision of stained hands, her guilty conscience and knowledge of her husband’s (Macbeth) deed of killing Duncan the King and it drove her mad.

This particular scene came to mind as I began to prepare this reflection. Now more than ever has the sin of racism been discussed, argued, made friendships questionable, pitted family members against family members and taken many leaders, especially those in the Church, to task about the anemic response to this evil. An evil woven into the fabric of American and Catholic culture.

It is a stain that remains the prevailing attitude and belief right where we live, work and worship. If the near occasion of racism is to be avoided and the stain of racism committed is to be removed, it will require full, conscious, attentive listening, a thorough examination of conscience and a conversion of the heart leading to a radical amazement of change. All of which are lessons some of us have heard before or learned as Catholics, and now is the time to put them to use like never before.

During my sophomore year at Grambling State University, I took a class titled, African-American History to 1877 (prior to the Reconstruction-Era). There, I learned something about my own hometown, which was never mentioned to me as I grew up. You see, my hometown of Opelousas was actually the Confederate Capitol of Louisiana for nine months during the Civil War, and four years after it ended, in September of 1868, one of the most heinous and violent acts of racism in our nation’s history occurred.

On the website,, you will find the article “The Deadliest Massacre in Reconstruction-Era Louisiana Happened 150 Years Ago,” with details about the intimidation, terror, horror and murder African-Americans in my hometown suffered. Why? Because there was a sinister movement to suppress the livelihoods, physical movement and voice of free persons of color. The perpetrators were never brought to justice. There was no call for reconciliation nor restitution for the crimes committed against Black citizens.

The Catholic Church in Louisiana did not condemn the massacre; and to this day, has remained silent despite being home to Holy Ghost parish in Opelousas, which boasts of a membership of 10,000 families, making it the largest parish with Catholics of African Descent in the United States. Today as I share this with you, I can only call to mind the words of Lady Macbeth with the vision of blood. An awful and horrific page in history, and it still bears the stain of racism.

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then,’ tis time to do’ t. Hell is murky!”

Closer to my current home of Houston, on the campus of Texas Southern University (TSU), 60 years ago on March 4, 1960, several students marched from the flagpole on campus to the Weingarten Supermarket on 4110 Almeda Rd. with one goal in mind: simply to have lunch.

You can find an article at titled, “How TSU students changed history,” and there you will learn about the courage of these students.

TSU is one of my ministerial callings as part-time campus minister and director of the Newman Center serving that community. I always encourage students to spend more time listening attentively when the Word of God is read, especially in our gatherings as a way of permitting the Divine to speak to their mind, heart and soul.

Today, there is a need to utilize this gift of the Church when brothers and sisters of African descent speak about the sin of racism in all of its manifestations, and there are many.

Georgetown is the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university, founded by the first Archbishop in the United States, John Carroll. In 1838, the university found itself in financial distress. To relieve its debt, two Jesuit Fathers sold 272 enslaved free-born human beings, a close community of fathers, mothers and children in Maryland — to two slaveholders in Louisiana.

If valued in today’s dollars, the sale netted Georgetown University $3 million dollars.

In April of 2017, Father Timothy Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States spoke to descendants of the GU272 and said, “Today the Society of Jesus, who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned. We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry.”

The apology is the beginning of a long journey toward permanent reconciliation and restoration.

Progress toward true contrition and healing requires attentive listening to the descendants, cries from the grave of their ancestors and heaven above.

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then,’ tis time to do’ t. Hell is murky!”

The real-life examples shared are intended to pierce the heart and mind.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, heal us!

These stories should make you uncomfortable, heartbroken, yearning for change and leaning on the two Great Commandments given to us by Christ Jesus: to love God with our whole mind, heart and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

These stories are but grains of sand on the blood-stained hands of our country and our Church. These stories and many more remain unheard, given little to no acknowledgment, nor reconciliation or restoration. If the grievous fault, the sin of racism is to be adequately addressed, let it begin with you. 

Doris M. Barrow, III is the Coordinator of Religious of Education at St. Monica Catholic Church and Campus Minister at the Newman Center at Texas Southern University.