They Lived Their Faith

Charles Henry Parrish - Louisville, Kentucky
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, November 27, 2009
Charles Henry Parrish
Photo courtesy University of Louisville

Inspired by the generosity of his parents, University of Louisville sociology professor Charles H. Parrish believed in the importance of helping others and always looking for the good in people. By doing so, Parrish said we can catch a vision of God.

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As I look back, I have the growing conviction that much of what I now believe may be traced to my parents. My present attitudes seem to have resulted from an accumulation of many small and apparently insignificant childhood experiences. These beliefs I hold must have taken root early because as far back as I can remember, they were no different fundamentally from what they are now.

As the son of a Baptist minister, I have often wondered why my religious beliefs were not more strictly orthodox. Undoubtedly it was the sort of person my father was, rather than what he said in sermons or pamphlets, that influenced me most. My father’s private secretary was Catholic. It never seemed incongruous to me that he should bring back to her beads that had been blessed by Pope Pius X or that a large picture of the pope should be prominently displayed in our home. Because of this memory, perhaps, the theological technicalities of doctrinal disputes leave me completely unmoved. I believe that every man must find God for himself, and that it does not really matter under whose auspices the search is made.

Nearly always, as I can remember, there were non-paying guests at our house. Uncomplainingly, my mother would do the necessary things to make them comfortable. Sometimes the persons who came were complete strangers. A gospel singer who had missed her train called up from the station and asked to be put up for the night. She stayed for three weeks. A stranded evangelist was with us for all of one winter. I do not recall that anyone was ever turned away. People in trouble inevitably came to my father for help. Although victimized many times, he was always ready to do whatever he could for the next person who asked his aid. He seemed not to think of himself. Yet, he enjoyed a moderate prosperity and his family never wanted for anything. It has thus become a part of me to believe that in the long run, I could never lose anything by helping other people.

The details of my father’s early life have always been a source of inspiration for me. It was a life of struggle. To the ordinary difficulties encountered was added the handicap of his racial origin. He had to fight continuously against racial intolerance. What has become increasingly significant for me was that he fought without bitterness. So far as I know, he never hated anybody. He must have believed in the essential goodness of people. I have come, gradually, to share this belief.
If I have stressed the importance of my father in determining my basic outlook on life, it is not to leave the impression that the influence of my mother has been negligible. It is, rather, that they were of one mind on the fundamental issues. My mother had varied outside interests, too, but her own family was the center of her loyalties. No sacrifice was too great for those she loved. Her devotion has had a profound influence in shaping my evaluations and beliefs.

These memories and impressions of my parents are the materials out of which my credo has been forged. Perhaps they would not have phrased it as I have. They might not have put it into words at all. They lived their faith. Its essence for me is couched on the belief that if I look always for the good in other people, I will surely catch a vision of God.

As a professor of sociology at the University of Louisville, Dr. Charles Henry Parrish, born in 1899 in Louisville, was the first African-American to be appointed to the faculty of a public Southern (and predominantly white) university. Parrish chaired U of L’s Department of Sociology from 1959 to 1964 and was invited to the inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Parrish retired from teaching in 1969 and died at his daughter's home in Newark, New Jersey, in 1989.