African American Studies
Jim Sogrue was an assistant pastor at St. Augustine’s Church in Morrisania, South Bronx from September 1957 until June of 1964. He was ordained in June of 1957, traveled to Puerto Rico to study Spanish and Spanish culture and upon returning was assigned to a Spanish mission in the Archdiocese of New York. Sogrue grew up in an Irish neighborhood on Wadsworth Avenue between 173rd and 174th in Washington Heights. He remembers forty families living in his apartment house and only one was not an Irish family. He did not know any black, Hispanic or Latino kids growing up. He recalls demographic changes occurring, as many of the Irish and German dominated parishes became Hispanic, Latino and Puerto Rican as the Irish and German population moved up near Fordham Road and then up to Throggs Neck.
St. Augustine’s was mostly Irish American and German American with a few Italian Americans. St. Augustine’s Parish is on Franklin Avenue and extends right to Fulton Avenue behind it. Monsignor Scanlon was the pastor, and Sogrue says he brought with him an enthusiasm to welcome African Americans to St. Augustine’s Church. They held convent classes three times a year with CCD programs for children which was open to just about everybody in the neighborhood. One did not need to be a Catholic to be a student.
Sogrue recalls the racism in the booming parishes of the 1950’s. He describes a woman turned down because they said “we don’t think that the time is right yet to accept an Afro-American” He discusses racism in schools such as Regis High School and Fordham Preparatory School. He says that the history of the Catholic Bishops in terms of race in this country is very poor because they were afraid of losing white parishioners, which he argues might have meant they were simply afraid of losing money. He continues to speak of the evident racism in Churches during this time period, and the continued effect it had on the community at large.
In the early sixties, drugs came to be a serious issue. He describes the first fifteen year old a mother brought to him to get him into detox. Around this time people were moving for better housing, as “housing was key.” He said if you had poor housing it was because you had a poor job, and poor housing also got you into a poor school. He says the reality of their situation was much different than the stereotype of those living in poor neighborhoods. They were hard workers and it was a safe place for children. Many Italians began moving north and the neighborhood began to change.
During the Vietnam War things got particularly bad, as drug addiction and alcoholism became widespread, and housing was “shot”. The church was irreverent with the community at large at All Saints Church in Harlem. There had been no welcoming of African Americans at this church and it became an empty building on the corner. The church became less important to the community at large. Racism continued in Churches, as his own Church, All Saints, would not allow black students.
Sogrue, Jim. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Sogrue, Jim Pt 1.mp3 (102819 kB)
Sogrue, Jim Pt 2.mp3 (62115 kB)