The influence of Trump’s Catholic advisers continues to be on display in his last days in office, as the list of honorees for his planned “National Garden of American Heroes” includes a number of saints—including a Black saint-to-be.
Venerable Father Augustus Tolton is to receive a statue in the garden, as is Saint Katharine Drexel, the second-ever American saint and a legendary philanthropist in the Black community.
They join Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (the first Native American saint), Saint John Neumann, Saint Junipero Serra (the most recently canonized American), and Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (the first American-born saint overall).
Interestingly, though the list also includes a number of non-Americans, British saint Thomas Becket—who received federal recognition from Trump in late December—was not one of them.
Venerable Fulton Sheen, Servant of God Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton, OSCO, however, did receive nods, leaving but a few Protestant ministers on the list—including Martin Luther King, Jr.
Devout Black Catholic athletes Roberto Clemente and Kobe Bryant are also slated to receive statues, alongside jazz greats Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, both baptized Catholics.
One lesser-known Black Catholic on the list is Mary Fields (aka “Stagecoach Mary”/”Black Mary”), a Montanan who was the first African-American mail carrier. (Her route was from her town to the Ursuline convent nearby.)
Other Black heroes include household names such as Coretta Scott King, Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Medgar Evers, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, and Booker T. Washington.
The list, released alongside the administration’s markedly racist 1776 Report, also includes a number of more dubious figures, including Catholics Archbishop John Carroll (owner of over 100 enslaved people), his cousin Charles Carroll (another slaveowner and alleged grandfather of Black nun Anne Marie Becraft), and Christopher Columbus.
Unsurprisingly, one of the largest sections in the garden is for military figures, including one African American: 4-star general Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
Notable omissions include even a single Black actor or actress (that wasn’t primarily a singer), or a Black writer other than Phillis Wheatley.
In fact, outside of musicians, no Black artists other than Wheatley were included at all.
The garden, which will involve statues of each listed figure, was originally announced in July, well before the last election, with a much shorter slate of individuals (31), including a handful of African Americans and a sprinkling of White Catholics.
This time around, the list has grown to 244, a gaudy number that might indicate Trump’s November defeat has spelled doom for the garden ever coming into being.
For better or for worse, it would appear that the number of Black honorees (33) was selected so as to match the percentage (13%) of African Americans in the US—no more, no less.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).