When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, African-Americans responded with grief and rage. Rioting erupted in more than 125 cities. In Greenwood, Mississippi, however, a white Franciscan friar, Fr. Nathaniel Machesky, helped to channel this righteous anger into constructive action. The Greenwood Movement, which he and two black ministers led, instigated a boycott that won the first tangible gains for African-American citizens of this racially polarized city.
Machesky came to Mississippi to establish a Catholic mission for black residents of Greenwood. He and Franciscan Fr. Bonaventure Bolda purchased the former Blue Moon nightclub on the outskirts of town, and transformed it into a place of worship. On Dec. 16, 1950, they offered the first Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Mission.