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March 2013

Religious studies professor re-traces steps of historic civil rights march

Carol in new yorkSeveral years ago, Carol Coburn served as an academic advisor for a Public Broadcasting System documentary detailing the lives of women who joined the civil rights march in Selma, Ala. in the 1960s.

Coburn, Ph.D., professor in religious studies and women’s studies in Avila University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, recently had the chance to become re-acquainted with that area of the U.S. She was invited by the Faith and Politics Institute in Washington D.C. to participate in a three-day Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama. Led by Congressman and American civil rights leader John Lewis, Coburn was part of a bipartisan, interfaith delegation from across the country that took the historic pilgrimage to Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma.

The delegation traveled together and visited historic civil rights sites, including churches, memorials and museums. The pilgrimage concluded with a church service in Brown Chapel and a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the famous site of the conflict of “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, when armed officers attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators attempting to march to the state capital of Montgomery.

“We flew to Tuscaloosa, the site of the integration standoff with Gov. George Wallace at the University of Alabama in 1963,” Coburn said. “It was basically a commemoration of what took place. I was very excited to be able to go.”

The pilgrimage commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversaries of the desegregation of the University of Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail, the Children’s March, the March on Washington and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

What made the trip all the more relevant to Coburn was the presence of Antona Ebo, one of six Catholic nuns who were on the original march on Selma in 1965. She was one of the six Sisters – two of whom were Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet - who collectively became known as “The Sisters of Selma.”

From 2002-07, Coburn was an academic advisor for the PBS documentary film, “Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change.”

“I was very, very honored to be part of the delegation,” Coburn said. “Working on the film was very powerful for me. I believe the Catholic sisters who marched for voting rights in Selma, Ala. in 1965 made a profound statement about their willingness to publically witness on behalf of justice and human rights. What many people don’t realize is that the events in the American civil rights movement had repercussions around the world and for the last half century have been an important model of social activism and non-violent resistance for oppressed peoples.

“It was one of those times I felt I was doing something really significant. You don’t often get that.” AU

Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434