St. Joseph Catholic Church was dedicated in 1910. It was founded by the Society of the Divine World and the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit. The sisters also founded a coeducational school that served children in the black community until 1970.
While other black churches in Meridian were participating in the Civil Rights movement by holding meetings at their facilities, St. Joseph chose to stay focused on improving the black community through education.
One well-known student was James Chaney, the Civil Rights worker who was killed in 1964. He attended St. Joseph school through ninth grade and served the church as an altar boy. Later, while attending Harris High School in 1958, Chaney was part of a group of students who were suspended for wearing NAACP badges as part of a recruiting program. The principal feared their actions would anger the all-white school board.
St. Joseph school also worked to combat the problem of adult illiteracy in the black community. Polly Heidelberg, who is remembered as a mother figure to many Civil Rights activists, learned to read through the STAR (Student Achievement in Reading) program at St. Joseph.