Bishop of the Raleigh Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church from 1945 to 1974, Vincent S. Waters is known mostly for denouncing segregation and ordering the desegregation of North Carolina Catholic churches and schools in 1953—a year before the Brown v. Board of Education case. Within churches, a parishioner, Waters announced, should “sit or kneel wherever he desires and to approach the sacraments without any regard to race or nationality.” Waters, however, worked only to integrate Catholic churches and never became a social activist or part of the vanguard of the civil rights movement.
The first attempt at desegregation within the diocese occurred in Newton Grove. There, more than a few Sampson countians and most parishioners gave the bishop a cold reception and stood outside the church to protest the first desegregated service. Waters’s denunciation, argues historian Blake Sloneger, “had an immediately crippling effect upon the Catholic community in Newton Grove,” but in the end, it “desegregated the parishes and established a precedent of interracial action” that influenced individuals and dioceses outside of North Carolina.
Jeffrey J. Crow, Paul D. Escott, and Flora J. Hatley, A History of African Americans in North Carolina (Raleigh, reprint, 2002) and Blake Slonecker, “A Church Apart: Catholic Desegregation in Newton Grove, North Carolina” North Carolina Historical Review (July 2006) 83: 322-54.