Mathew Ahmann

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Mathew H. Ahmann
Martin Luther King Jr and Matthew Ahmann.jpg
Ahmann on August 28, 1963, behind Martin Luther King, Jr.
Born Matthew Ahmann
(1931-09-10)September 10, 1931
St. Cloud, Minnesota
Died December 31, 2001(2001-12-31) (aged 70)
Washington, D.C.
Alma mater College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University (1952)
Occupation Activist
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Margaret C. Ahmann
Children 6

Mathew H. Ahmann (September 10, 1931 – December 31, 2001) was an American Catholic layman and civil rights activist. He was a leader of the Catholic Church's involvement in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.[1]

By initiating the 1963 National Conference on Religion and Race, Ahmann worked to establish the civil rights movement as a moral cause. He was one of four white men who joined the "Big Six" to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He gave a speech during the march that preceded the "I Have a Dream" speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.[2] Following the civil rights movement, he directed several civil rights and Catholic service initiatives.[3]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Mathew Ahmann was born on September 10, 1931 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, to Norbert Ahmann and Clothilda Ahmann, née Hall. Ahmann's grandfather, Mathew Hall, was a German-American immigrant and St. Cloud businessman. Ahmann was the oldest of three brothers; each attended Saint John's Preparatory School in Collegeville, Minnesota.[1][2]

Ahmann studied social science at Saint John's University for three years.[1] After graduating in 1952, he entered a master's degree program in sociology at the University of Chicago, but left to focus on his work with the civil rights movement.[3]

In 1954, Ahmann married Margaret C. Ahmann.[1] Together they raised six children.[4]

Civil rights movement[edit]

Ahmann worked in Chicago for several years as director of the Chicago Catholic Interracial Council.[3] In 1960, he founded and became the executive director of the National Catholic Council for Interracial Justice. As director, Ahmann organized the National Conference on Religion and Race, the first national meeting on civil rights between Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders. The conference was held in Chicago on January 14–17, 1963. Ahmann scheduled it to coincide with the Emancipation Proclamation's 100th anniversary. 657 religious leaders from 78 denominations attended, and speakers included Martin Luther King, Jr., Sargent Shriver, and Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1] After his speech, Heschel invited Ahmann to the stage and said, "We are here because of the faith of a 33-year-old Catholic layman." Heschel kissed Ahmann on the head, and Ahmann received a standing ovation.[1]

Ahmann (far left) at the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., 1963.

Ahmann was asked by organizers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to find a Catholic bishop who would serve as a Catholic chairman for the march. Unable to find a willing bishop, Ahmann himself volunteered to join the organizing committee and make a speech at the march.[5] Ahmann, as the Catholic presence, along with white leaders Walter Reuther, Eugene Carson Blake, and Joachim Prinz, joined the original "Big Six" to organize the march as the "Big Ten."

At the August 28 March on Washington, Ahmann gave a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.[1] He asked:[6]

Ahmann's speech preceded King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

In 1965, Ahmann urged all United States diocese clergy to attend the Selma to Montgomery marches, in response to King's call for participation. In the same year, Ahmann gave the commencement speech at the College of Saint Benedict, where he encouraged women to fight for rights. In 1967, Ahmann wrote a letter to the incarcerated King, saying, "Our conference sends you greetings while you serve sentence for your witness for humanity, dignity and justice."[1]

Later activities and death[edit]

Ahmann worked with the National Catholic Council for Interracial Justice until 1968. In 1969, he moved to Texas and became the executive director of the Commission on Church and Society for the Archdiocese of San Antonio.[3] During the 1972 presidential election, Ahmann worked for vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver.[3] He then worked for 16 years as the associate director of government relations for Catholic Charities USA in Washington, D.C..[7] He was also an executive committee member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.[7]

Ahmann died of cancer on December 31, 2001, at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. A memorial mass was held at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C, on January 12, 2002.[4]

William L. Taylor remarked, "Mr. Ahmann was a quiet voice of conscience in the civil rights movement, who helped make the Leadership Conference the effective organization that it is today."[7] In October 2013, Ahmann was posthumously awarded the Colman J. Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society from Saint John's University.[2][8]

Bibliography[edit]

  • The New Negro (1961)
  • Race: Challenge to Religion (1963)
  • The Church and the Urban Racial Crisis (1967), with Margaret Roach

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Duffy, Brendon (2013). "Acting on Faith". Saint John's Magazine (Saint John's University). Summer/Fall 2013: 24–31. Retrieved November 11, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Maurice, Jim (August 28, 2013). "St. Cloud Man Instrumental In Organizing ‘March On Washington’ in 1963". WJON. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Walberg, Matthew (January 7, 2002). "Mathew H. Ahmann, 70: Founder of Catholic interracial group". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Mathew H. Ahmann: Obituary". Chicago Tribune. January 4, 2002. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Euchner, Charles (25 September 2010). Nobody Turn Me Around: A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington. Beacon Press. ISBN 0807095524. 
  6. ^ Kelley, Kitty (13 August 2013). Let Freedom Ring: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the March on Washington. Macmillan. ISBN 1250022835. 
  7. ^ a b c Russell, Michelle (16 January 2002). "Mathew H. Ahmann, Catholic Activist and Former Leadership Conference Executive Committee Member, Dies at 70". The Leadership Conference. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Ahmann '52: Fifty Years Since the March on Washington". Saint John's University. 20 August 2013. Retrieved 12 November 2013.