Selma Stories


 A Jumbotron image at the Presidential Rally at the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches.

 A Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis contingent made the pilgrimage to Selma, Alabama, March 5-9 for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the marches for African American voting rights.

The group included  Sisters Anne Kelly, Jane Kelly and Barbara Moore, as well as Associate/Province Liturgist Mary Kay Christian and Director of Communications Jenny Beatrice.

Selma Selfie

A Selmia Selfie while waiting in line at the presidential rally. Front: Jenny Beatrice and Sister Barbara Moore. Back: Sister Jane Kelly and Mary Kay Christian.

The gathering commemorated the 600 protestors who peacefully marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.

Now known as Bloody Sunday, many were beaten but not beaten down. Several others then traveled to Selma to be a part of the movement, including Catholic priests and nuns who joined clergy from all denominations.

Three of those marchers in 1965 included members of the St. Louis province, Sisters Barbara Moore, Rosemary Flanigan and Roberta Schmidt. Supported by the CSJs and Missouri dioceses, they traveled in delegations from St. Louis and Kansas City. They marched from Brown Chapel to the courthouse for days to voice their support, step by step.

Fifty years later, CSJs were some of the 70,000 people at the commemoration who made the pilgrimage to walk in solidarity with those first marchers, once again bringing their voices to the streets.

“We felt it was important to celebrate and commemorate this day,” says Sister Barbara, “and the diversity among us was very wonderful and very reassuring. So many people and their families came. I was just amazed by the people pushed in wheelchairs, the babies pushed in strollers and held in arms. But, it was important for the family members to be there.”

The CSJs attended Mass and a reception to honor the Sisters of Rochester, New York, whose presence in Selma for 75 years was of great importance to the community. Because their bishop forbid them to march, they treated the wounded at Good Samaritan Hospital, the only facility that would accept blacks. It was their way of participating in a revolution that echoes through to today. Read their blog of their experiences at

Sister Barbara Moore Reflects

Sister Barbara Moore reflects at the 50th anniversary presidential rally aside Sister Jane Kelly who has lived in Selma since the 1970s.

On the day of the presidential rally, the CSJ group and the Rochester sisters left early to wait in winding lines to get into the rally.

Sister Jane Kelly, who’s been a part of the Selma community since 1972, knew many of the families in the long lines. A nurse practitioner, she works at the Grace Busse Clinic in Pine Apple, Alabama, with Dr. Rosanne Cook, CSJ providing health care for the poor.

People recognized her and came up to her with hugs and thanks for the care she provides them. “Jane is a wonderful presence,” says Sister Barbara. “She knows no stranger. Jane and Roseanne not only serve people in health care but they’re there for the birthdays, the weddings and the funerals. They’re very much a part of the community.”

In the midst of these massive crowds, a friendliness and a unity grew—a hopeful example of how things could be.

After hours of waiting in the hot sun, President Obama’s speech did not disappoint, inspiring the crowds who watched from the Jumbotrons. He spoke of unity coming to fruition in our country one day.

One of the most profound speakers was not a dignitary but a Selma African-American high school student. She told of how she let her grandparents know that she would be speaking at the rally. Her grandparents were not only proud, but astounded that a black woman would have such an opportunity,  let alone their granddaughter. It was a reminder that much has changed since the days of separate water fountains and lunch counters, thanks to many people like the marchers who stand up for racial equality.

Many modern-day history changers, such as President Obama, Martin Luther King III, Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Lucy Baines Johnson emphasized that they marched with the people in hopes of writing a new story.

However, one of the most influential changers in the movement that the sisters met was not on the street but at the dinner table.

Dr. Clarence Jones, Martin Luther King Jr.’s attorney, stayed at Sister Jane’s convent as even he could not even find accommodations in the crowded area. This unassuming man, with an underlying air of dignity, sat at the head of the dinner table. “Let me tell you why being here is so important to me.” And he did.

He was a child of domestic servants who sent him to a Catholic boarding school in Pennsylvania. After law school and service in the Korean War, a judge recommended that Dr. King ask him be his lawyer. At first Dr. Jones refused. But, when King mentioned in a sermon that more black professionals were needed in the movement, Dr. Jones agreed.

Dr. Clarence Jones in Selma

Dr. Clarence Jones with the CSJs: Sisters Barbara Moor, Roseanne Cook, Jane Kelly and Anne Kelly.

Dr. Jones was grateful to be with the women religious he respected and loved once again during his stay. Sister Anne Kelly graciously expressed the CSJ charism of hospitality, acting as Dr. Jones’ escort to his engagements. He also shared his stories at a dinner party hosted by Sister Anne, honoring the Vatterott family from St. Louis. Their patriarch provided the funding to send the religious to Selma in 1965.

Dr. Jones told about how Dr. King wrote his historic letter from the Birmingham Jail on napkins and toilet paper. Every day as Dr. Jones came to visit the jail, Dr. King took the “papers” for transcription. Soon, Dr. Jones slipped a few fresh sheets of actual paper inside his suit coat, trading the papers to and fro every day. In three days, step by step, the letter from the Birmingham Jail came to be.

Sister Barbara says, “It was an honor to meet Dr. Jones and to realize how active he had been and what a major part he played in relationship to Dr. King and the legal battles…But one of the things that impressed me the most is his involvement in creating Dr. King’s letter.”

Sister Barbara also notes, “Dr. Jones says that Dr. King always referred to himself as ‘Reverend Doctor’…and I realized that many of the leaders in the movement were ministers and continued to be. That was very profound for me because that’s what people of faith and justice should be about."

Selma Kansas City Delegation

The Kansas City delegation who went to the marches with Sister Barbara Moore pictured fifth from left.

“The presence of priests, religious and the laity impacted the peaceful march for voting rights positively,” says Sister Roberta Schmidt, who was unable to attend the march. “We gave Christian witness to the dignity of our African- American brothers and sisters in Selma.”

Sister Rosemary Flanigan, who was also unable to attend, says, “I remember the feeling of solidarity with everyone that day, from people who came from the north to neighbors who walked across the street. We felt so as one that I remember thinking, racism is dying in the United States. I wish I had been correct in that assumption.”

With the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and other conflicts that are revealing themselves across the country, Sister Rosemary says, “It seems that racism is hidden in pockets of our society and sits in darkness until something happens, emerges into light, and then goes back to hiding. Anytime anyone organizes people to demonstrate that injustice will not be tolerated, we add another niche in our effort to eliminate racism.”

Sister Barbara reflects, “Sometimes I wonder where are the voices, where are the people? What is really consoling for me to realize is the number of people who do believe that things need to change and that they need to stand up for what they believe in.”

Sisters Barbara, Anne and Jane witnessed people standing up for what they believe in on their march from Brown Chapel across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were some of the relative “few” who made it across the re-creation of the original march that began at Brown Chapel. Despite being among more than 70k strong, they did not feel like strangers.

“There was a young group drumming,” says Sister Barbara. “Lots of times when you are ‘marching’ it’s helpful to have music and keep in step. I was trying to keep in touch with the beat. I was even dancing a little bit. It felt real good when I put my foot on the bridge.”

Sister Rosemary says, “I’m always happy to see our sisters out in front when it is a matter of social justice. I applaud our CSJ presence at the commemoration.”

“The two generations since March 1965 only know about Bloody Sunday and the voting act from the movies,” says Sister Roberta. “Memory of the lived experience must be kept alive. Participating in the Selma 50thanniversary is a perfect example of the CSJ charism and mission of being with and serving the dear neighbor.”

Sister Barbara Moore and Farrah Fazal, KSDK

Sister Barbara Moore and reporter Farrah Fazal from KSDK, St. Louis.

See the local and national coverage of the CSJs at

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