On Tuesday, the visage of George D. Prentice took its last look at the Louisville Free Public Library. Memorialized in white marble, a likeness of the founding editor of the Louisville Journal sat outside the main library for more than 100 years before workers removed it Dec. 11.
The 19th century newsman is most remembered today for his scathing editorials that espoused disdain for Catholics and immigrants. So hostile were his words that he is credited with helping foment the Bloody Monday riots on a Louisville election day in 1855. It’s estimated that at least 22 people died in the day’s violence — mostly Catholic immigrants.
They were targeted by “nativists,” people who considered themselves “true” Americans — white male Protestants born in the United States. They were determined to fend off what they perceived as a threat from an influx of Catholic immigrants — mostly German and Irish at the time. These immigrants were poor, as Catholics they were seen as loyal to Rome and they tended to join the Democratic party.
Nativist fears reached a boiling point on Aug. 6, election day. They blocked the polls and mobs set out for Irish and German neighborhoods, handing out beatings, setting fires, vandalizing property and even shooting some people to death.
It’s been more than 163 years since this tragic chapter in Louisville’s history. But some of the sentiments remain.
Vitriol toward impoverished immigrants and people of different faiths is commonplace today — and it spills forth from the highest elected office in the land. White supremacists have enjoyed a resurgence as well-intentioned people look on, discussing the various political and social complexities surrounding racism, immigration and other challenges.
But it’s really not that complicated, at least not for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Every other concern dissolves when human dignity is on the line.
Memories of Bloody Monday — and the removal of the Prentice statue — should remind us about what we value as Christians. They should remind us that all people — regardless of our differences — possess a God-given dignity worthy of our protection.
When the new year begins in just a few weeks, the Archdiocese of Louisville will begin its annual “Days of Human Dignity” observance. The series of events will highlight the plight of immigrants and refugees, the right to life and all that flows from this right and the ongoing struggle against racism.
Well-intentioned people with informed consciences ought to explore solutions to these complex challenges. And those who struggle with these issues of human dignity — or other issues — may heed Pope Francis’ suggestion for Advent.
“Advent is time for people to think about what they can change about themselves so that they can sow the seeds of peace, justice and fraternity in their daily lives,” said Pope Francis on the second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 9. He went on to explain that Advent is a time for personal conversion, “humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, our failure” to do our duty.
Indeed, each of us will benefit from such examination.
The Dec. 9 Gospel from Luke describes preparing the way for Jesus in terms of leveling hills and valleys. Pope Francis likened the valleys to indifference and the hills to mounds of pride.
“Let each one of us think, how can I change something about my behavior in order to prepare the way for the Lord?” he asks.
As Advent continues and we prepare our homes for this holy season, let’s also remember to prepare a place for Christ inside ourselves.