Faith and Practice
There were no fewer than eight organized churches in Corinth when George Holland was editor of the EMBA News. Churches included the First Baptist Church, Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, South Corinth Methodist Church, Free Methodist Church, Wesleyan Methodist Church, and the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, and particularly in rural communities, churches and affiliated religious organizations were often social centers for the community. Churches provided opportunities for social gatherings, education, social service, and spiritual events, and churches were typically a community’s primary charitable organizations. Holland’s photographs suggest that Corinth’s religious organizations served both the spiritual and communal needs of the community.
Churches are key socialization agents within communities that reinforce cultural beliefs and norms. Individual membership in religious organizations can be important components for identity and social status within a community. Religious organizations are often arranged hierarchically within a community, with a higher social standing being afforded to individuals and families as the result of their membership in a particular church.
Each Corinth church had faithful and active congregations, but some were more socially engaged in the larger community than others. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was perhaps the most active, but its work was also the most photographed since Holland was as a communicant. In addition to photographs made of children’s First Communions and Confirmations, Holland also documented the social activities of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of America, two of the organizations that worked under the auspices of the Catholic Church and were actively engaged in community affairs.
Knights of Columbus Local Council No. 3271 was organized for Catholic men in 1949 and named in memory of the beloved Rev. John Dignan. The purpose of the Knights was to provide financial aid to its sick, disabled and needy members, and to offer charitable support to members of the wider community. The Knights met bi-monthly in the Parish Hall, held a yearly community-wide communion breakfast, sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day dance in the Community Building, organized fund-raising bazaars, and marched in Knights regalia during community parades.
Court Father Joseph Hickey, No. 1567, of the Catholic Daughters of America, was organized in Corinth in 1951. A social organization for Catholic women, the CDA held several fund-raising projects each year – particularly its annual minstrel show - and donated the proceeds to various state and local charities, sponsored an annual dinner for senior citizens, and made generous donations to the Corinth Emergency Squad.
Corinth children and teenagers were also eligible to join Catholic organizations. Boys often became altar boys to serve priests during Sunday mass and other church ceremonies. High school girls could become members of the Catholic Sisters Club, while slightly younger Catholic girls might join the Junior Atonement Club. Organizations such as these went beyond the religious instruction provided by the weekly catechism classes attended by most Catholic children and teens to cultivate the tradition of church and community service that was central to the Catholic faith.
The organization of Catholic adult groups by gender was effective in reinforcing cultural messages about expected social behavior for men and women that was consistent with the time period. Indeed, many of Holland’s photographs of organizations associated with the Catholic Church, in particular, reveal the early reinforcement of traditional gender roles. This is evident in the First Communion photographs. All the girls wear white dresses in one image, and in another boys and girls are separated as they walk in a procession to the church. These images are notable in comparison with the two photographs of Baptist Church children that show boys and girls mixed randomly together.
The photograph of the Catholic Daughter’s minstrel show in this section is symbolic of the racial attitudes that were common in this time period. While the image was made only two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954, it was still acceptable in many places during the 1950’s - particularly in rural areas like Corinth - for whites to perform in blackface. While the individuals who performed such roles were just copying a theatrical tradition that dated to the 19th century, minstrels like that offered by the Catholic Daughters effectively and unwittingly reinforced negative stereotypes about Blacks.