I recently attended The St. Louis Black Rep’s production of Hold On! with Sisters Nancy Corcoran, Barbara Moore and Joan Filla. Hold On! is a play written by Paul Webb that depicts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic voting rights marches in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and inspired the 2014 feature film, “Selma.” I knew the play would be moving and that Sister Barbara Moore had been to Selma and marched with Dr. King.
Thanks to Sister Nancy for sending a description of Hold On! before attending, I had the idea to tell the cast that Sister Barbara was a marcher. I slipped a note to the box office attendant before the performance. When the play ended and the audience rose to applaud the gripping production, Enoch King, the actor who played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took the microphone to make a surprise announcement.
“There is someone in the audience who walked in Selma!” he proclaimed. “Sister Barbara Moore of the Sisters of St. Joseph, please stand!”
The crowd erupted as Sister Barbara stood and humbly received the loud applause. After asking if anyone else present had marched and hearing silence, Mr. King invited Sister Barbara onstage, which resulted in more applause from the audience. The cast surrounded her as they put her in a chair in the center of the stage. They were truly in awe and appreciative of her witness. I was so appreciative of them, their respect and appreciation of her. Tears everywhere!
After the audience drifted out, the actors made a ring around Sister Barbara on the stage and listened to her stories of Selma. A teacher from Thea Bowman Academy came up and spoke with Sister Joan about her work and her hope to invite Sister Barbara to their school. A firefighter from University City took many photos; he had been a child in 1965 and remembered the stories.
During the discussion, we also spoke of other Sisters of St. Joseph who risked their safety marching and crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge, such as Sisters Rosemary Flanigan, Roberta Schmidt and former member Christine Vencker. Sister Barbara’s experience and the conversation that ensued touched the hearts of all of us and made me proud and humbled to be a Sister of St. Joseph and renewed the urgent call still echoing today: “Keep your eyes on the prize … hold on!”