Bearing wrongs patiently: James Lackey develops young, Black Catholic leaders

0
James Lackey stands outside St. Pius X Church in South Phoenix, the site of the monthly Unity Mass that brings together Black Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Phoenix. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
James Lackey, grand knight of Knights of Peter Claver Council 369, stands outside St. Pius X Church in South Phoenix, the site of the monthly Unity Mass that brings together Black Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Phoenix. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.
In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.
Practical ways to bear wrongs patiently
  • Resolve to carry your cross with grace
  • Refuse to indulge in self-pity
  • Do not return evil for evil
  • Forgive those who have wronged you
  • Develop a sense of humor
  • Seek immediate help if abuse is involved

James Lackey will be the first to tell you he has not suffered injustice. And yet, as he responds to detailed questions about how he grew up and came to be a leader in the Black Catholic community, it becomes apparent: this is a man who has borne wrongs patiently.

The eldest son of nine children, Lackey’s parents were sharecroppers in Mississippi. His mother had an eighth-grade education, but she and her husband wanted something better for their children. So at the tender age of 14, Lackey left home. It was around the time of the infamous lynching of Emmet Till, a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was visiting Mississippi and was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman.

“I grew up hearing that story. It hit home for a lot of us because it let us know that the thing our grandparents were talking about hadn’t changed. It was just under the surface,” Lackey said.

“I could not go to school in Mississippi because I was a worker,” Lackey said. “That was the way it was then. If you lived on the farm and you was big enough to work, you was expected to work. The only time you went to school was when there was nothing else to do.”

It wasn’t his family that expected him to work — it was the landowner. Such was the reality of sharecropping in the 1940s and ‘50s in the Deep South. Lackey moved to St. Louis where he lived with his uncles and attended high school. That’s when he was offered football scholarships to historic Black colleges and even Dartmouth.

“But I didn’t have anybody to talk to,” Lackey said. “If it wasn’t their school, they didn’t know anything about it. They could not advise me.” When he spoke of the Ivy League Dartmouth, he was told, “You don’t want to go to there. There’s nobody up there that looks like you.”

KofPC LogoThe Knights of Peter Claver

The Knights of Peter Claver, Inc. and Ladies Auxiliary is the largest historically African-American Catholic lay organization in the United States. Founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama, the order is named after St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest from Spain who ministered to African slaves in Cartegena, Colombia, South America, in the 17th century. Peter Claver is said to have converted over 300,000 slaves to Catholicism.

The Saint Martin de Porres Council 369 meets at St. Pius X Parish, 809 S. Seventh Ave.

Info: kopc.org or kpcwsdc.com/369

Although he wanted to go to college, he also wanted to help his brothers and sisters back in Mississippi. “I could spend the next five years chasing around these schools and still not have helped anybody back home.”

Then, he was accepted into the management training program for Monsanto Chemical at Southern Illinois University. It didn’t work out. In order to go into the program, he would have had to join the Air Guard or the reserve. “Picture the state of Missouri in 1959. Joining the Air Guard or the reserve was not going to happen. So that took care of that.”

Instead, he wound up serving in the Air Force, with multiple deployments to Vietnam. He eventually became a non-commissioned officer, then went on to work for the City of Phoenix.

He sent money home to support his family for years.

There is not a shred of bitterness in Lackey’s voice as he answers repeated questions about the injustice of the institutionalized racism he encountered. Instead, he focuses on the important work of guiding today’s young Black Catholics. He’s the grand knight for the Knights of Peter Claver Council 369, the largest and oldest lay organization of Blacks Catholics.

“My concept is teaching the youth and getting them involved to be good Catholics and understand the Catholic Church,” Lackey said. “We are developing leaders for the future.”

LEAVE A REPLY