Editor’s note: in issue 8 of the Dart, Sister Rosemary Flanigan’s last name was misspelled in a photo caption.Ã‚Â The correct spelling is Flanigan.Ã‚Â The Dart regrets the error.
Men and women, young and old, black and white lined up. Visible among them were nuns and priests, joining to challenge unjust African American voting laws. Some carried a bedroll in case they had to sleep outside that night. Water stations were set up along their route. Eventually, the protesters encountered state troopers: some on horseback, some on foot. With batons in their hands, the state troopers knocked protesters to the ground.
According to sister Rosemary Flanigan, these scenes and others made up the Selma March, a civil rights movement that took place from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL March 7, 1965, aimed at protesting African American voting injustices in the South. Flanigan, a CSJ, retired philosophy teacher and retired ethics committee member, took part in the march. She now volunteers in the STA library’s archives department. Flanigan’s involvement in the Selma March, among other things, helped her achieve the Mother Evelyn O’Neil community stewardship award at STA this year.
Initially, sister Roberta Schmidt asked Flanigan to participate in the movement. According to earthlink.net, a site documenting the sisters’ involvement in the Selma March, Monsignor Francis Doyle came up with the idea for the nuns to travel to Selma, asking Schmidt to accompany him. According to earthlink.net, at the time, nuns could not travel alone, so Schmidt asked Flanigan to travel with her. Both teachers at the time, Flanigan and Schmidt left unexpectedly, leaving their classes.
‘When Monsignor Doyle called me the night before the charter flight, sister Rosemary and I were still up preparing our classes for the next day,’Â Schmidt said.
Flanigan accepted the invitation without hesitation.
‘Though we had never done such a public action before, the papers had been full of activities in Selma and the plight of the black citizens there, but it seemed so far away and so out of the orbit of my concerns,’Â Flanigan said. ‘But when the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate an instant to say yes to Roberta’s invitation to go along.’Â
Flanigan traveled to Selma, AL March 10, 1965. According to Flanigan, the protest revolved around unusually difficult requirements for African American voting.
‘The test was so hard that one of the laymen who was on the plane with us on our way to Selma was himself the dean of the law school at St. Louis University and when I asked him about that test, he told me that he couldn’t have passed it,’Â Flanigan said.
Most participants protesting this injustice walked from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL. However, Flanigan participated in a different way: she prayed and took part in worship services with African Americans in a Baptist church.
‘We had prayed with the black citizens of Selma in their Baptist church, had sung with them, had listened to the civil rights leaders explain nonviolence,’Â Flanigan said. ‘Even if we were attacked, we were not to strike back.’Â
However, others presented different sentiments. Many worked against the civil rights activists. State troopers stopped Flanigan and others during their protest.
‘We were stopped by state troopers blocking the street to the city hall and a black civil rights official asked three times if we could march to the city hall and three times was told ‘no,”Â Flanigan said.
Several African American activists expected the oppression. Some had even prepared for police to arrest them.
‘I had a moment of fear when I saw one of the black men with a toothbrush in the pocket of his bib overalls where most farmers put a pen,’Â Flanigan said. ‘I asked someone, ‘ËœWhy does he have a toothbrush?’, and the reply came, ‘ËœBecause he expects to be in jail tonight.”Â
African American sister Barbara Moore participated in activities such as these as well when taking part in the march. Moore says her experience in Selma was profound.
‘I was among people of all ages, faith traditions and races from many parts of the United States – black and white together – who were willing to stand up for their beliefs and accept the consequences,’Â Moore said. “The nonviolent education and strategy were impactful and very sobering.’Â
The event impacted Flanigan as well.
“I felt such a sense of solidarity with [the African American civil rights activists],’Â Flanigan said. ‘They were open, kind, grateful for our coming down to join them, that skin color didn’t make one bit of sense to set them apart. And the impact on me was that I saw so clearly the sin of racism.’Â
Forty-six years later, people still admire Flanigan for her work with the Selma March. Sister Joan Tolle, a co-worker of Flanigan, feels Flanigan did what was right.
‘We were all created equally so that’s the way we should be treated,’Â Tolle said. ‘I thought it was wonderful that [Flanigan] stood up.’Â