By Alice Kenny
Forty-eight years ago today, helmeted state troopers in Selma, Alabama used billy clubs and fists to beat back silent marchers as they tried to cross the Alabama River along Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Sister Josepha Twomey recalls that day — known forever as Bloody Sunday and memorialized by photographers’ footage broadcast on national network television – and the days surrounding it during her recent interview on JustLove radio.
“There were demonstrations going the entire year and people would gather, mostly men, at Brown Chapel which was right across the street at the big housing project in Selma,” Sr. Josepha tells Msgr. Kevin Sullivan during their radio interview. “They would march to City Hall and if they couldn’t get in they would kneel on the steps and pray and just turn around and head back.”
A member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Rochester, Sister Josepha worked in the 1960s in the one-story St. Elizabeth School in Selma. This Catholic school, she says, offered 120 black children from nearby housing projects a green-and-white-checked uniformed, educationally sound alternative to a neighborhood public school that had no books.
The Civil Rights fight in Selma, she adds, was about “voter registration and voter rights.” Black Americans made up more than half the population in Selma yet comprised only 2-percent of registered voters. The marchers – nearly six hundred people in all – were protesting for voter rights and against the death of an unarmed man, shot three weeks earlier by a state trooper while trying protect his mother.
“Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge you have a four lane highway and that takes you to somewhere called Lowndes County, which is a single lane,” Sr. Jospha recalls. “That was KKK Country, and that’s where several of the people were killed — killed.”
Listen to her first-person account on JustLove with Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities New York, on The Catholic Channel 129, SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio.
JustLove, aired weekly on Saturday at 10 am EST and Sunday at 5 am EST, features conversations about the church in the world to promote a just and compassionate society.