Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. (From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)
By Rosalie Laune
I read with interest the coverage in the Saturday St Louis Post-Dispatch commemorating “Bloody Sunday” and the role St. Louisans played in the events in Selma, Alabama in 1965.
The Charles and Mary Vatterott family, Archbishop Joseph E Ritter and Sister Antona Ebo an African American nun, member of the Franciscans Sisters of St. Mary, were profiled in the coverage and one of them with ties to New Haven.
I was a child when Charles and Mary Vatterott owned a second home in New Haven. It was there that they and their “blended” family would spend a great part of the summer. Charles and Mary were both widowed when they married, hence the blended family.
We knew a little about them: they had a large family, meaning many kids; we presumed they were wealthy, and they were very generous with the local Catholic Church. It was not until I read the paper did I learn of their commitment to social justice and their involvement in the events 50 years ago in Selma. According to the article in the Post, that commitment continues through their progeny.
I also understand why, at the time, the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King would have sought the support of Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter. It was he who integrated the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese in the mid to late 40’s, a decade before segregation in the public schools was struck down by the Supreme Court.
At the time it was a courageous move and not without its share of critics. With the financial and logistical support of Charles Vatterott, the archbishop could organize a contingent of 50 people ready to leave St. Louis for Selma in a mere 48 hours.
One of those 50 was Sister Antona Ebo, who worked in a hospital for African-Americans. Although she had no idea what she would face in Selma, she did know what happened on “Bloody Sunday.” However, that did not dissuade her; she answered the call. She like so many nuns, “foot soldiers in the trenches”, were and are dedicated to social justice for which they, at times, have taken criticism and even faced attempts to silence them. At 90 she still speaks out against injustice.
I’ve spoken with people who say they don’t have to read about “Bloody Sunday” or see the movie, Selma, because they remember it. Memories become blurred and fuzzy. Over the weekend the New Haven Walt Theater had four showings of the movie, Selma, and to my knowledge neither of the two major theaters in the area have yet to show the movie.
At one showing, college and high school students were admitted free through the sponsorship of ECC. Following one of the Sunday showings, St Peter’s United Church of Christ in New Haven held a fellowship and discussion.
I commend and thank the Zobrist Family, owners of the Walt Theater, ECC and St. Peter’s UCC for providing an opportunity for local citizens to refresh their memories. This is especially critical in light of events playing out in our region 50 years after “Bloody Sunday.”