St. Louis nun recounts being in Selma for Civil Rights march

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

It was a turning point in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

And for some St. Louisans, that anniversary is very personal including Sister Mary Antona Ebo, who will turn 91-year-old in April. She was one of six St. Louis nuns who flew to Selma in a show of support after voting rights marchers were brutally attacked by Alabama State Troopers on March 7, 1965: Bloody Sunday.

Three days late, the St. Louis nuns arrived in Selma. But because Sister Ebo was the only African-American in the group, she was nervous.

‘'When I responded to that call I knew there were things that could happen to me that would not happen to the other sisters,” she said.

Sister Ebo had wanted only to be counted among the many.

But when protest leaders realized the novelty of having an African-American nun among them, they told her they needed to her to speak.

‘'I was pushing back from the podium because I really didn`t feel like I had anything to say,” she said.

But she spoke the following words: "I am here because I am a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness."

‘'I was really so scared and didn’t know what I had said and other people have quoted me and that quote has gone around the world,” she said. ‘'I’ve gotten little excerpts about the way people have worked those words into other sentences that apply to other people going through oppression.”

When the nuns tried to march through Selma, they ran into Mayor Joseph Smitherman, who told them marching was not allowed. But when he saw there were only six of them, he decided to let them pass.

‘‘When I saw Mayor Smitherman 10 or 15 years later he said, ‘Oh, I remember you so well. We often wondered what happened to that little colored lady that they dressed up like a nun.’”

She has always remembered that comment, and it haunts her.

‘'It was scary and I think I would have been even more afraid if I would have known that they thought I really wasn’t a nun,” Ebo said.

Sister Ebo was in Selma for only one day, but every day since she has spent her energies trying to bring people together.

And she will continue that mission when she speaks at a "Faith in Ferguson” prayer vigil at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Ferguson on Tuesday, March 10, 50 years to the day that she traveled to Selma.