While Bob was growing up, Robert Sr. decided that the family would join the Catholic Church. He did so partly because he wanted his daughters to attend Catholic schools, even though Robert Jr. was allowed to enroll at Hyde Park High School, a public school. But partly, they joined because it moved the family one or two rungs up the social ladder.
He explained, “I think my family relished this idea that being Catholic made us special, above ordinary, away from the holy rollers and the shouters. We were solemn. We took religion seriously. We were not [Chicago Housing Authority] project people. We were home owners. We were middle class. We were better than the stereotypical black person.
The problem for Bob was that he had grown up in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, and the shouting and carrying on was part of his spiritual home. He had no problem believing he was created in the image of God, because the minister was black, the choir sang gospel music and those ladies dressed in white who made sure that members slain in the Spirit would not hurt themselves in their experience of ecstasy. Those older women dressed in white gloves, dresses, stockings and shoes who attended to people when they started to swoon—we had the highest respect for them. They were so stately, so regal that no one would dare to be disorderly.
But in the Catholic Church he didn’t feel created in God’s image, because not only was the priest white and the liturgy in Latin—about as far away from the AME as you could get—but as presented in the pictures on the wall and the stained glass windows, God the Father and the Son were portrayed as being white.
“Here I am,” Bob recalled, “and all the people I knew dark skinned with black hair and Jesus a is white guy with golden hair. It made me feel that I was not human in the sense that God created us in his image. It created an internal dissonance. I never escape the image of me being black and God white, never.”
“I was in awe of my father,” he said. “I didn’t feel like God was looking after us. I felt that my father was the one I could trust, which translated into the pride I felt in being Robert Jr. He was the father in whose image I been created.”