“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.
King would be dead within three years. On a fateful April 4, 1968, he was shot by an assassin at his Memphis hotel.
He had asked to be taken to a Catholic hospital should anything happen to him, and he was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis. At the time, it was a nursing school combined with a 400-bed hospital.
There, too, Catholic religious sisters played a role.
Sister Jane Marie Klein and Sister Anna Marie Hofmeyer recounted their story to The Paper of Montgomery County Online in January 2017.
The Franciscan nuns had been walking around the hospital grounds when they heard the sirens of an ambulance. One of the sisters was paged three times, and they discovered that King had been shot and taken to their hospital.
The National Guard and local police locked down the hospital for security reasons as doctors tried to save King.
“We were obviously not allowed to go in when they were working with him because they were feverishly working with him,” Sister Jane Marie said. “But after they pronounced him dead we did go back into the E.R. There was a gentleman as big as the door guarding the door and he looked at us and said ‘you want in?’ We said yes, we’d like to go pray with him. So he let the three of us in, closed the door behind us and gave us our time.”
Hofmeyer recounted the scene in the hospital room. “He had no chance,” she said.
Klein said authorities delayed the announcement of King’s death to prepare for riots they knew would result.
Three decades later, Klein met with King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at a meeting of the Catholic Health Association Board in Atlanta where King was a keynote speaker. The Franciscan sister and the widow of the civil rights leader told each other how they had spent that night.
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Klein said being present that night in 1968 was “indescribable.”
“You do what you got to do,” she said. What’s the right thing to do? Hindsight? It was a privilege to be able to take care of him that night and to pray with him. Who would have ever thought that we would be that privileged?”
She said King’s life shows “to some extent one person can make a difference.” She wondered “how anybody could listen to Dr. King and not be moved to work toward breaking down these barriers.”
Klein would serve as chairperson of the Franciscan Alliance Board of Trustees, overseeing support for health care. Hofmeyer would work in the alliance’s archives. Last year both were living at the Provinciate at St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka, Indiana.
For her part, after Selma, Ebo would go on to serve as a hospital administrator and a chaplain.
In 1968 she helped found the National Black Sisters’ Conference. The woman who had been rejected from several Catholic nursing schools because of her race would serve in her congregation’s leadership as it reunited with another Franciscan order, and she served as a director of social concerns for the Missouri Catholic Conference.