Sister who marched for civil rights encourages people to stand up for justice
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 1:26 AM
In March 1965, Sister Mary Antona Ebo and several other Franciscan Sisters of Mary traveled from St. Louis to Selma, Ala., in response to Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for a peaceful demonstration against the recent Bloody Sunday attacks on civil rights demonstrators.
Sister Mary Antona was the only black nun among her group and soon found herself in front of TV cameras and reporters talking about why she had joined the march.
Forty-seven years later, Sister Mary Antona recalled her experience before about 40 people gathered in the parish hall at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Southeast Washington on Feb. 11.
"All I knew was that I was scared to death," she said of going down to Alabama. Just days earlier on March 7, state and local police had attacked demonstrators marching from Selma to Montgomery in protest of discriminatory voter registration policies.
Sister Mary Antona and her fellow sisters were interviewed in news reports about the March 10 demonstration that King organized. "[God] told me what to say, and it went around the world," she said of showing the world that every person is a "child of Jesus"
Following that and other days of peaceful protests, the Voting Rights Act became law in August 1965.
Sister Mary Antona, who was trained as a nurse, went on to become a hospital administrator and chaplain and one of the founders and presidents of the National Black Sisters Conference.
Today she continues to speak across the country about the civil rights movement, so that "the story is told to generations coming after us," she said.
"I think that's why I've lived this long, because I've got a story to tell you," said the nun, who turns 88 on April 10.
"Beware of being silent," she said. "It's that silence that gives consent sometimes to the things that we don't want to give consent to."
Sister Mary Antona's talk followed a screening of the 2003 PBS documentary "Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change" in which she was featured. She also answered audience questions and attended a vigil Mass and dinner that followed her talk.
Deacon Al Turner, director of the Archdiocese of Washington's Office of Black Catholics, emceed the Feb. 11 event, which was sponsored by the Office of Black Catholics, the Fourth Degree Knights of Peter Claver, and the Ladies of Grace's Sister Mary Antona Ebo Chapter.
When the Ladies of Grace, a lay Catholic organization, began forming their 47th chapter last year in Washington, member Regina Barrett came across Sister Mary Antona Ebo's story in a Lenten reflection book.
Her story was so inspirational to Barrett that she asked her fellow Ladies of Grace to consider naming their new chapter after Sister Mary Antona. They did, and were excited to be able to invite their chapter's namesake to come and speak at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Ladies of Grace Chapter 47's leader Louisa Buadoo-Amoa called Sister Mary Antona a "living legend."
But Sister Mary Antona said in an interview after her talk that she doesn't see herself as a symbol of the Catholic involvement in the civil rights movement.
"I guess if I thought I was, I'd have to take a step back," she said with a laugh, pointing out that the very next day after she appeared on TV in 1965, she and her fellow sisters were up in time for morning prayer, Mass and duty.
In the audience was Our Lady of Perpetual Help's Deacon Timothy Tilghman, who said, "I'm just excited that at the ripe young age of 87 going on 88 she still has the passion to witness and is on fire for her faith."