The Healy family of Georgia became notable in U.S. history because of the siblings' high achievements in the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly within the Catholic Church. They were born in Jones County, Georgia, to Mary Eliza Smith, a mulatto slave, and her common-law husband, Michael Morris Healy, an Irish Catholic immigrant from County Roscommon, who became a wealthy cotton planter. As they were born into slavery, the mixed-race children were prohibited from being educated in Georgia. They were majority European in ancestry, and Healy was determined to provide them with educations. He sent them to the North, as did many planters with mixed-race children. The sons attended a combination of Quaker and later Catholic schools in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. James, Patrick and Sherwood all did further studies at Saint-Sulpice in Paris, France, and the latter two earned doctorates there. The three daughters were educated at Catholic convent schools in Montreal, Canada.
Of the nine children who lived to adulthood, three of the sons became ordained Catholic priests and educators while all three daughters became nuns (one left the order, married an Irish immigrant and had a son). James Augustine Healy became the first American bishop of African descent and Eliza Healy attained the rank of Mother Superior. Michael joined the United States Revenue Cutter Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. Today he is asserted to be the first person of African-American descent to command a federal ship. Three of the Healy children have been individually honored by the naming of various buildings, awards and a ship for them. The former site of the Healy family's plantation near Macon, Georgia is now called Healy Point. It includes the Healy Point Country Club.
Born into slavery, the children were considered mulatto in the South, a census classification that recognized mixed race. With three-quarter European ancestry, the children varied in features and complexions, but all were baptized Catholic in the North and were accepted as white Irish Americans. Their stories have intrigued historians and sociologists for their high achievements as the children of an immigrant and an enslaved woman. They gained higher educations and most became prominent in the Catholic Church, they negotiated racial issues, and they created alliances with Catholic Church officials and its institutions. The roles of Catholic Church representatives who mentored the young Healy men and women have attracted interest. James M. O'Toole's Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920 (2003) explores many of those issues. A. D. Powell's Passing for Who You Really Are (2005) takes issue with what she calls the distortion of the past by 20th-century activists, as she says they practice their own kind of one-drop rule. For instance, she thinks it is inappropriate to claim as African American individuals such as the Healys, who historically identified themselves and were accepted as Irish American, although they acknowledged their multi-racial heritage. Since the late 20th century, several of the Healys have been noted and celebrated as the "first African Americans" to achieve certain positions.
Famous quotes containing the word family:
“Q: What would have made a family and career easier for you?
A: Being born a man.”
—Anonymous Mother, U.S. physician and mother of four. As quoted in Women and the Work Family Dilemma, by Deborah J. Swiss and Judith P. Walker, ch. 2 (1993)