INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - February is Black History Month and during this time werecognize Hoosiers who have had a significant societal impact.
One of those Hoosiers was Cardinal Joseph Ritter. Hedesegregated Indianapolis Catholic schools 16 years before the U.S.Supreme Court ended segregation in public schools. He was truly atrailblazer, blazing a path toward social change.
At the high school that bears Ritter’s name,18-year-old Abner Gomez makes solving exponential equations lookeasy. He likes trigonometry, and that's not all he likes about hisclasses at Cardinal Ritter High School. He really likes theschool's diversity. The student body is 60% Caucasian, 30% black,and 10% Hispanic.
"I have African-American friends, white friends, Hispanicfriends," said Gomez.
And he says that better prepares him for the diverse work worldhe'll enter one day. That diversity is the lasting legacy ofCardinal Joseph Elmer Ritter, the man after whom the school isnamed.
"When he made the decision, he was a bishop at that time, todesegregate here in Indianapolis. It was met with not a lot ofpositive," said Jo Hoy, the principal at Cardinal Ritter HighSchool.
It was 1938, a time when the Klan still levied considerablepolitical influence in the state. The men in white robes andpointed hoods would march down Meridian Street past Saints Peterand Paul Cathedral disparaging blacks and Catholics alike -declaring both un-American. And the bishop took a stand, angeringeven those within the diocesan.
"It was awful. It was met with so much resistance that peopleeven threatened to sue the diocese," said Hoy.
Ritter wouldn't be deterred, paving the path toward publicschool desegregation and opening the doors of education forgenerations of youngsters.
Ritter was appointed Archbishop of Indianapolis in 1944 thenArchbishop of St. Louis in 1947. And he desegregated Catholicschools there as well. The U.S. Supreme Court would follow his leadby ordering school desegregation in 1954.
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