Fifty years ago in USA, voting rights became an iconic issue representing social exclusion. While Negros (the racial designation used in the 1950s and into ‘60s) had the right to vote by law, local ordinances and procedures in many states rendered them disqualified and excluded – the core of injustice. The film “Selma” has drawn national attention to the turbulent times of civil rights activism, political strategies, ideal hopes and still-shocking violence. It clearly shows how those who hold power can consciously and actively exclude those they deem unfit or unworthy of social participation.
Take another look - When six Catholic nuns from St. Louis boarded a chartered plane headed for Selma, Alabama, in the early morning hours of March 10, 1965, they had no idea they were about to change their own destinies and the lives of many U.S. women religious. Their actions helped propel Catholic sisters into a new era that forever changed the face of religious life and would inevitably redefine how sisters understood and acted upon social justice issues for the rest of the century.
Sr. Judith Mary: For the 100th time that day I wondered about what I was doing. Were we going to witness God’s hand in Selma? I was convinced I should go. I expected nothing. I wondered. I wondered at the Kansas City airport when we had our first encounter with the photographers and at the St. Louis airport as we read the nation’s reactions to the death of the Rev. Mr. Reeb. I wondered at Atlanta when we were joined by more priests and Sisters, and four knapsack-carrying ministers from Connecticut. I wondered as we flew through clouds over Alabama, and when I glimpsed a long red country road and thought of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Oct. 6, 1965: A poem by Sr. Anne Mary, O.P.
March 24, 1965 Editorial: Even In The pluperfect North, not everybody is happy about the role played by clergy and religious in the Selma demonstrations. Diocesan papers across the country are getting indignant letters protesting their participation. In the chancery office at Kansas City, Mo., the device that receives and records telephone messages during off hours was jammed with verbal protests after the week end of the great Selma demonstration. For the Sisters, though, there was another kind of criticism. Many people apparently don’t believe that Sisters should be mixed up in things like this, that it isn’t proper for them.
May 5, 1965: Charges made in Congress that “degeneracy, drunkenness and sex orgies were the order of the day” for civil rights demonstrators before, during and after the Selma-to-Montgomery march were given the lie this week by religious leaders who spoke as eyewitnesses. Among these was the only Roman Catholic nun who made the march. She is Sister Mary Leoline Sommer, a tall, serene Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary stationed in Kansas City whose Route 80 sunburn has now turned to a tan. She went to Washington Monday on a trip paid for by friends to join eight others in trying to convince Representative William L. Dickinson (R. Ala.) that his charges of immorality were untrue.
April 7, 1965: A Roman Catholic nun was scheduled to speak at a Methodist religious service by way of a tape recording after a “misunderstanding” halted plans for her personal appearance. The nun, Sister Alexine of the Sisters of St. Joseph, taped an account of her experience as a volunteer nurse at Good Samaritan hospital in Selma, Ala. The recording was to be played during the offertory at the Sunday services at Central Methodist Church in downtown Detroit.
The voting rights demonstrations led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago in Selma, Ala., are among the most significant events of the modern civil rights movement. They successfully rallied supporters of racial justice behind the need for government action to protect the right to vote long denied to African-Americans. The Voting Rights Act, described by many as the single most important piece of legislation passed by Congress in American history, was a direct result of the Selma protests.
Sr. Barbara Moore wanted to see the film "Selma," but by herself "because emotionally I knew it would probably be impactful." So the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet sat alone in a St. Louis theater in January and watched the movie about the events of 50 years ago this March – the voting rights marches and protests led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama.
Sr. Barbara Moore entered the St. Louis Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1955. Having spent most of her religious life in Kansas City, Mo., she ministered at St. Joseph Hospital, Avila University and Samuel U. Rodgers Community Health Center. She went with the 22-person Kansas City delegation in March 1965 to Selma, Ala., to march for Civil Rights.
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