1965 was a turbulent time in the civil rights movement, punctuated on March 7, when a group of peaceful protestors were brutally attacked as they attempted a march from Selma to Montgomery, stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
That day, forever known as “Bloody Sunday,” awoke a nation’s consciousness, and struck a chord with one man here in Naperville. The late George St. Angelo was the first chaplain of North Central College, and was no stranger to racism.
“My dad and mother were involved in the racial situation in our little town and so it was, my dad particularly was the object of the Ku Klux Klan,” he said.
Hoping to begin a dialogue here at North Central, St. Angelo invited the founder of The Congress on Racial Equality, James Farmer, to give a speech on campus.
“One can’t be neutral today … if you are a bystander, you are not innocent … the greatest crime of all is the crime of silence,” excerpt from James Farmer’s speech.
His words on taking action were powerful – and, effective. They spurred St. Angelo to organize a trip to Selma, to join Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on another march, held on March 21st.
120 North Central students, staff, and faculty joined him to take part in what would become a historic protest.
“We had 3 bus loads and I think we must’ve filled two of them, from NCC, the Chaplin from Elmhurst he had his bus then others heard about it so they – we filled the busses. It had an impact on the campus no doubt about that and but we knew that it was a kind of a danger,” St. Angelo said.
Kitty Agne was among those on the bus. Recently graduated from North Central, she chose to serve as a chaperone, driven to take a stand against inequality.
Her memories of that day were still vivid, decades later.
“Dr. Martin Luther King spoke that morning on the steps of the church. He was such a marvelous speaker, and as I recall he really pitched the moment of when we would cross the bridge and step off the Pettus Bridge as marking such a significant answer to what had happened on the bridge when they didn’t get to step off on to the other side. So we were in rows, and when we stepped off that bridge, that really stayed in my mind as something that was so moving,” said Kitty Agne.
Dr. King famously asked that day, how long?
And it was not long – 5 months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, on August 6th 1965 enacting the legislation to guarantee voting rights for all Americans.
A historic moment for not only the nation but for those who boarded the busses at North Central that day, riding toward a new tomorrow.
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