Standing with Others to make a Difference

Selma marchBLOODY SUNDAY is the name given to the tragic event that happened at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 when some 600 African Americans, men, women and children, were beaten, tear gassed and trampled by State Police as the group attempted to march to Montgomery to protest the wrongful murder of a young man, Jimmy Lee Jackson, and to demand the right to vote. Because of this day and the ensuing events, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Every year these events are commemorated during the first full weekend  of March, and because 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Bill, nearly 90,000 people from all over the USA and the world gathered in Selma. Sisters Gertrude Lanouette and Norma Bourdon traveled from New England to join Sr. Cecile Cusson and represent the DHS who have ministered in Alabama since 1954.

Sr. GertrudeThe weekend, replete with a multitude of activities including but not limited to huge meetings at the Baptist Church, celebration brunches, liturgies concelebrated by African-American Bishops, receptions, marches and parades to recall  the event and to honor those whose persevering involvement over the years helped make a difference: women and men religious from several congregations,  clergy of various denominations, benefactors who provided air transportation for sisters and clergy from St. Louis, even one gentleman bearing a briefcase with $25,000 in cash in case any of the SISTERS needed to be bailed out. Present also were Lucy Baines Johnson who had witnessed her dad sign the Voting Rights Act, Dr. Clarence Jones, Martin Luther King’s personal lawyer and speech writer. The convent in Selma, Sr. Cecile Cusson’s residence, very graciously became a diner/boarding house as the Sisters served as many as 40 guests at any one meal including national and international press writers.

Sr NormaOn Saturday President Obama was scheduled to arrive and so Sr Gertrude joined the throng of some 40,000 odd spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of the President and to be a part of this historical moment. They waited from 8:30 in the morning in the hot sun without food, drink, cell phones or restroom facilities until Obama’s 2 p.m. arrival and even at that, were relegated to watching the President on a large screen TV.

Sunday, the day of the ‘bridge crossing’, Sr. Norma (having lived in Alabama several years) chauffeured Sisters to a drop off point as close to the bridge as possible and picked them up on the other side later. With a gigantic crowd of some 90,000 marchers it was impossible to organize a clear cut direction over the bridge, so folks were bumping into one another and making their way across at a snail’s pace and everyone was positive, polite, forgivng and helpful. There was no violence of any kind as the participants contemplated the way things were and the way they are now. All seemed in agreement that while there is still a long way to go, “we’ve come this far by faith.” Seeing President Obama walk across the bridge hand in hand with John Lewis and Emilia Boynton (103 years old) who had been beaten and nearly killed on that same bridge in ’65, gave rise to many thoughts and emotions clearly expressed on one of the promotional buttons:

Rosa sat, so
Martin could walk, so
Barack could run.
We stand on the shoulders of mighty giants.  To God be the glory…

If you would like to chat about this once in a lifetime experience or would like more details, feel free to e-mail Sr. Gertrude at   or Sister Norma at

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