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Historic Downtown Natchez Mississippi Walking Tour
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Holy Family Catholic Church is historically significant for its architecture and its association with the local African American community. Built in 1894, it was the first (and therefore the oldest) African American church in Mississippi. In terms of architecture, it is an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture. Notable features include a bell tower with a spire, Gothic arched windows, buttresses, and decorative brickwork. The church is the centerpiece of the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Building, Landmark, Architecture, Property

During the 19th century, the Catholic African American population in Mississippi was quite large. This was challenging for the Catholic Church since slaves were not allowed to go anywhere; priests had to visit plantations owned by Catholics. In Natchez, priests baptized more than a third of African American adults and children by 1860. During the Civil War, priests also baptized them in what were called "contraband camps" (these were camps formed by runaway slaves who fled to in Union armies).

The first African American school was established in the basement of St. Mary's Church. Children attended school there until a new school was built in 1890 on Beaumont Street. Local African American Catholics then began to call for a parish of their own to be established. The diocese agreed and Holy Family Church was built in 1894. A two-story convent was also built at that time. The following year, the rectory located at the corner of Orange and Franklin Streets was built. In 1906, the auditorium/cafeteria was constructed.

Holy Family has been an integral part of the African American community. It has always been commitment to educating African American children and participated in Civil Rights activities during the 1960s. It hosted NAACP meetings and appeared in the 1967 documentary Black Natchez, which depicts how the African American community tried to organize during the Civil Rights era. The resident priest in the 1960s was a Father William Morrissey, who was white and the first white officer of the Mississippi Chapter of the NAACP.

"Holy Family Catholic Church." Holy Family Catholic Church. Accessed November 24, 2020. https://928fbab0-9275-4eee-a1ac-b9f848c40e24.filesusr.com/ugd/dd2aaf_3b00cd1c0f6748fb8a8e43acde617164.pdf.

"Holy Family Catholic Church Dedicated July 1, 1894." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed November 24, 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=103798.

Miller, Mary Warren. "Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. July 14, 1995. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/95000855_text.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Holy_Family_Church_Natchez,_MS.jpg