Thursday, February 17, 2011

St. Louis nun recalls Selma march

The Webster University Journal includes an article featuring Sister Antona Ebo of the St. Mary Franciscan order and her role in the Selma March of 1965:

She said the reason she went to Selma was because she truly believed that every person of any race was her equal. She also felt that if she truly was going to make a difference to the people she slept next to every night, she needed to physically be there.

"Our bodies were on the line, not just our voices," Christopher said. "We didn't just 'talk-the-talk.' "

Growing up, her father was a butcher who had black co-workers. Her mother, a factory worker, had a black boss. Christopher said there were no cruel words said about other races in her house while she was a child. One evening, her mother's boss invited the family over for dinner.

She remembers the night being very fun and that everyone had a peaceful time together enjoying good food and conversation like "normal" people do. This night, along with the beliefs she was raised with, founded her view of other races.

Christopher received permission from Father Shocklee, who asked permission from Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter for Christopher to march. She would not be going alone. Along with fellow Loretto sister, Sister Christine Mary, four nuns from different orders would join her. According to PBS' "Sisters of Selma" documentary, these six women were the first nuns to be involved in these marches.

Hundreds of people marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. State troopers met them and demanded they turn around go home. When the leaders of Bloody Sunday's march respectfully rejected their demand, the troopers began to beat the marchers and fire tear gas. Dozens were hospitalized and the media covered it for the nation to see.

"Sure, you have a little bit of fear, because you don't know what's going to happen," Christopher said. "It's the fear of the unknown."

Bloody Sunday's events put fear in the hearts of all the sisters.

Sister Antona Ebo's fear was more intense than it was for the other sisters.

"I knew that if we were arrested, I would get separated from the other sisters, in a different jail since I'm black," Ebo said. "Who knows what else would have happened to me."

With people still injured from Bloody Sunday, the sisters marched with the crowd alongside Martin Luther King Jr. on March 9 and were again faced with state troopers. The protesters tried to attain a court order that would allow them to march without interference. However, Federal District Court Judge Frank Johnson issued a restraining order saying the protesters, now numbering in the thousands, could only march to the bridge where Bloody Sunday took place until he could have additional hearings.

While marching, only two days after the horrific events of March 9, the people kept strong, Christopher said.

"There wasn't any fear among the people," Christopher said. "We stood in front of troopers with gas masks, but no one seemed afraid. We wanted to do whatever we could to make this right. If they wanted to throw tear gas in the crowd, so be it."

The violence was avoided as the crowd turned back at the bridge. The Loretto sisters left after the second march and wearily returned to St. Louis.

"Some people ask why I left after only one march," Christopher said. "But I felt that my march was a gateway for other marches to come."

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