They recalled having small objects thrown at them and remembered being coached what to do when tear gas came their way. And they relayed stories of seeing African-American men, women and children viciously beaten and the ugliness of racism on the streets of Selma, Alabama.
And most all, they remembered the appreciation they received from those they served.
Members of Sisters of St. Joseph congregations in Brentwood and Rochester gathered this month for St. Joseph’s College’s live Zoom presentation of “A Conversation with the Sisters of St. Joseph and Their Work in the Selma Civil Rights Movement.”
The sisters shared compelling memories of their experiences working in and around Selma during the early 1960s.
“As I see it, Martin Luther King, Jr. had two images he wanted to project to the American people,” said S. Regina Coll, C.S.J., of the Sisters of St. Joseph, one of the five panelists. “One of them was what you believe about God has to do with racism. Racism tells us what we think God demands of us. And that was why Dr. King invited religious people down — to make this a religious problem.
“The second thing he wanted the American people to see was how viciously black people were beaten,” she added. “At that time, we thought it would change the whole culture of the country. As we know now, racism is still a terrible, awful problem in this country, and I’m wondering that if all that’s going on now is going to make more change than what happened when we were in Selma.”
The other panelists included Sisters Barbara Lum, Kathy Navarra and Donna DelSanto with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Rochester, and Virginia Dowd, the archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. S. Marie Mackey, director of campus ministry at SJC Brooklyn, moderated the event, which was presented by the College’s Office of Student Involvement, Leadership and Intercultural Engagement.
The recorded event is featured on St. Joseph’s YouTube channel. Click the play button to watch the entire video below.