Updated: Friday, 12 Feb 2010, 6:44 PM EST
Published : Friday, 12 Feb 2010, 6:44 PM EST
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - February is Black History Month and during this time we recognize Hoosiers who have had a significant societal impact.
One of those Hoosiers was Cardinal Joseph Ritter. He desegregated Indianapolis Catholic schools 16 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ended segregation in public schools. He was truly a trailblazer, blazing a path toward social change.
At the high school that bears Ritter’s name, 18-year-old Abner Gomez makes solving exponential equations look easy. He likes trigonometry, and that's not all he likes about his classes at Cardinal Ritter High School. He really likes the school's diversity. The student body is 60% Caucasian, 30% black, and 10% Hispanic.
"I have African-American friends, white friends, Hispanic friends," said Gomez.
And he says that better prepares him for the diverse work world he'll enter one day. That diversity is the lasting legacy of Cardinal Joseph Elmer Ritter, the man after whom the school is named.
"When he made the decision, he was a bishop at that time, to desegregate here in Indianapolis. It was met with not a lot of positive," said Jo Hoy, the principal at Cardinal Ritter High School.
It was 1938, a time when the Klan still levied considerable political influence in the state. The men in white robes and pointed hoods would march down Meridian Street past Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral disparaging blacks and Catholics alike - declaring both un-American. And the bishop took a stand, angering even those within the diocesan.
"It was awful. It was met with so much resistance that people even threatened to sue the diocese," said Hoy.
Ritter wouldn't be deterred, paving the path toward public school desegregation and opening the doors of education for generations of youngsters.
Ritter was appointed Archbishop of Indianapolis in 1944 then Archbishop of St. Louis in 1947. And he desegregated Catholic schools there as well. The U.S. Supreme Court would follow his lead by ordering school desegregation in 1954.