Josephine Durnell Finds Comfort from Racism Through the Church

By Bre Foley

For Josephine Durnell, the church community provided refuge while growing up in Louisiana. Durnell was born in Freeport, Louisiana, in an all-black neighboring community in the 1940’s. During this time of segregation, she and her family found that church involvement helped them cope with the difficult times they faced.

“I’ve always been very involved in the church community since I was young,” Durnell said. “My parents and I did Sunday school and I went to Christian camps every summer.”

Even when Durnell moved from Louisiana to Minneapolis to attend college, she still managed to attend church every Sunday. She attended a Lutheran school known as Augsburg College, which offered services. The time she spent in the school chapel helped her feel more a part of a campus where she was the only African-American student. Durnell said throughout her four years at Augsburg, she had to work much harder than the other students to prove herself.

“It was hard being the only black student…I had to study hard and competitively against the other students.” said Durnell.

After college, Durnell moved in 1967 from Minnesota to Massachusetts with her husband whom was also from Louisiana. There, she began teaching in South Boston while her husband remained in the service. She stayed involved with the different Baptist churches in Boston until she moved to Brockton and joined the Messiah Baptist Church. She has been a member there for the past 25 years, and is involved in their volunteer programs, such as Sunday school. Although she found comfort and guidance against discrimination within her church community, Durnell says she still sees racism today.

 “Brockton is definitely racist…more racist than Minnesota” she said. “[The Church] makes me feel like we’re fighting against racism,” she said. “The outside community may be racist, but [Messiah Baptist] fights for community action and equality.”

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