Thank You, Sister, for Civil Rights

Thank You, Sister, for Civil Rights

To understand the amazing story of Franciscan Sister Antona Ebo, you need to know something of the Civil Rights Movement. I’m reading a book that my son recommended some time back: Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.  It’s called the “definitive account of the civil rights movement,” penned in the later 1990s by  the Hon. John Lewis (with the assistance of author Micheal D’Orso). Lewis was leader of the student branch of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s–in many ways setting the stage for the older folks (Martin Luther King Jr. and others) to draw the nation’s attention. It was the students who did the famous bus rides, the lunch counter sit-ins breaking the codes of segregation, who led the infamous Freedom Summer that resulted in such brutality but pricked the nation’s conscience. We scarcely can appreciate what these young people did to change our country–it seems like ancient history.

Indeed it was in a history class that my son got the book. “Dad, you might be interested in this….” (Turns out I personally knew a few of the people mentioned in the book, from my work in the South before I came to St. Anthony Messengerwhat does that tell you!)

I’m mindful of all that because of Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister, whom I once interviewed for the magazine. She was one of the thousands who went to Selma, Alabama, to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis and so many others were brutally beaten by sherriff’s posses for trying the same on what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” This African-American Sister Ebo, in her full habit, was put in front of the march on the day that her group tried. Sister Antona, a hospital-records manager, was terrified! But she marched nonetheless.

It took a few weeks of marches, and the federal government, before the march was finally successful. Today it is a historic date in the Civil Rights Movement. Sister Antona was one of a larger group of Sisters from several communities who came to stand with those seeking their human rights.

I can only feel gratitude for the work of so many Sisters I’ve known over the years. Women such as Antona depend upon Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to keep their communities on track. I’m inspired by women like Sister Antona (now lovingly called “Grandma Sister” by the young people she meets), who put her life on the line for others.

Thank you, Sister.




©2012 by John Feister. Photo by John Feister


About the Author

John Feister is editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine. He has a B.A. in American Studies from University of Dayton, and master's degrees in Humanities and in Theology from Xavier University. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, and was previously an adviser to the Communications Committee of the U.S. Catholic bishops (2000-2006). His latest book, Thank You, Sisters: Stories of Women Religious and How They Enrich Our Lives is available from the Franciscan Media catalog. He has cauthored four books with Richard Rohr (Franciscan Media), and coauthored, with Charlene Smith, the biography of Thea Bowman (Orbis books).