Bishop’s farewell article from The Sun, October 13, 1971
By Mary Klein, diocesan archivist
Unafraid to publicly defend his ongoing commitment to desegregation, Bishop Doll testified before the Baltimore City Council on January 13, 1966, endorsing an open-housing ordinance. Held at the War Memorial building, the hearings drew a crowd of hostile white hecklers who gathered in the public gallery. They jeered, booed and tried to shout down the witnesses. Writing at the time of Bishop Doll’s death in 1984, Rabbi Abraham Shusterman recalled, “I have always been proud that along with the late Bishop Doll and Cardinal Shehan I was the third clergyman to be booed at the City Council meeting on open housing. I was in good company.” Jokingly, Bishop Doll had told Cardinal Shehan, who had been the first to testify and was booed for a solid two minutes, that he was jealous because Doll’s jeering only lasted one minute.
Bishop Doll’s 8-year term as Diocesan bishop spanned 1963-1971, some of the most turbulent years in the nation’s recent history. Events over which he had no control – the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the war in Viet Nam and its attendant protests, riots in urban areas including Baltimore, the erosion of “traditional values,” a drastic drop in church attendance, changes in liturgy, the ordination of women all added to the trauma of this episcopate. Perhaps the event that hastened Harry Lee Doll’s retirement four years before his age demanded it was the General Convention of 1969.
Installation of Bishop Harry Lee Doll at Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore, November 22, 1963
The end of the nineteen sixties witnessed the rise of “Black Power,” militancy and the influence of Black Muslims on the conscience of America. Consequently, the Episcopal Church called a Special General Convention to be held in South Bend, Indiana in 1969. The convention, led by Doll’s old friend Presiding Bishop John E. Hines, made $200,000 available to the General Convention Special Fund, and earmarked it for a group indirectly associated with James Foreman’s “black manifesto” which demanded $500,000,000 from American churches and synagogues as a form of reparations for past racism and segregation. Explaining that he saw the $200,000 as “seed money” not reparations, Bishop Doll had left the Special General Convention sure that the church had acted “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” Surely the white establishment could use its vast financial resources to overturn poverty in America.
Following the Special General Convention, each diocesan delegation was to hold public meetings to discuss the actions taken, and the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore hosted a forum. Ever a true leader, Bishop doll sat in a chair in front of the altar and addressed the large crowd, which began to yell and jeer. At his retirement just two years later, the bishop recalled that night, “There were at least 1,000 people, and never in my life have I felt such a wave of pure hatred flow up to me as there was that night. We tried to explain things fully, but none of it was heard. The people there wanted simply to express their indignation and their hatred.” The rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Robert P. Patterson, described Doll’s countenance as the yelling continued. “You could see the man just visibly slump with despair.” Patterson added, “He’d be called in the middle of the night repeatedly. He was bowed but never beaten. He never became hostile himself. He absorbed it; he was tired.”
Bishop Doll admitted that the event nearly crushed him with the “greatest sense of failure.” He retired in October of 1971. Indeed, following a break-in at the Diocesan House just a year later in October of 1972, in which all his official journals as Diocesan had been stolen, Harry Lee Doll told Garner Ranney, the archivist, “There’s nothing left of my episcopate.”
Harry Lee Doll died on August 27, 1984. Ironically, Episcopal Bishop Harry Lee Doll and Roman Catholic Cardinal Lawrence Shehan were laid to rest on the same day. Allies in the Civil Rights movement as well as the ecumenical movement, both prelates were buried on Friday, August 31, 1984. Bishop Doll was 81 years old, and was buried from the Church of the Redeemer, the site of his installation as Bishop Diocesan as well as his “greatest sense of failure.”
Rather than echo his sad words that “there’s nothing left of my episcopate,” looking at the brave record of Harry Lee Doll should offer an endorsement of his stance on equality, and give us hope for the future. To quote from his 1963 address to Convention, “…in this vital field of race relations, involved, confused and complex as it is, we cannot stand still. To do that is to deny God’s guidance in the affairs of men, and it is to deny our own responsibility for our brothers in Christ. I urge your prayers in this regard; and as you pray, work – and as you work, pray that God’s will be done in justice, in righteousness and in brotherhood.”
Bishop Harry Lee Doll’s portrait at our Diocesan Center in Baltimore