The church presented the film “Standing on my Sisters’ Shoulders.”
In celebration of Women’s History Month, and seeing as many women in the Civil Rights movement voiced their influence in churches, Trinity Episcopal Church Moorestown presented the film “Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders” inside its doors on Sunday, March 5 — the 52nd anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
With nearly 60 people in attendance, the event was the second program presented by the newly formed God’s Diversity Committee of Trinity. Co-chairs of the committee, Veronica Hughes and Anne Dalesandro, and its new rector, Mother Emily Mellott, plus other members of the committee welcomed guests from the surrounding townships and churches.
The film highlights the struggles, fears and oppression of female activists of the 1960s and chronicles their activities during the major events of the Civil Rights Movement. These events include the Emmett Till murder of 1955, the Freedom Rides of 1961, the Woolworth’s sit-in of 1963, Freedom Summer of 1964 and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of 1964.
According to Audrey Henry, a member of the Trinity Episcopal Church Vestry and the Riverfront Historical Society, which first presented the film at its annual Juneteenth Celebration at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Beverly last June, the showing of the film was a huge success and was well received by a noticeably diverse audience. She explained that, although these women’s stories are sometimes overshadowed by the more recognizable names of the male activists of the time — Martin Luther King Jr. , Malcom X, Andrew Young, Medgar Evers, Stokely Carmichael and John Lewis — the women featured in the film also strongly contributed to the Civil Rights Movement.
“The movie’s trailer promised to demonstrate how the passion, commitment and perseverance of women, both black and white, were crucial to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, and it succeeds in a most powerful way,” Henry said. “The impact of women working at the grassroots level to affect the change they sought is often an untold story.”
After the film’s conclusion, featured speaker Sherry Sadoff Hanck, daughter of Joan and Robert Sadoff, the co-producers and co-editors of the film and book, gave a personal account of her parents’ journey in creating this work.
“What is it like to share my parents’ film is like asking what it’s like to hold their hearts in my hands. It is a great responsibility and honor to keep the flame of their mission lit, and I only hope to do justice to their story,” Sadoff Hanck said. “I am so proud of the work they do to shine light on history’s unsung heroes and how they inspire others to stand up for what’s right.”
She recalled a scene within a documentary her mother was especially moved by — when she saw the depiction a bus being locked from the outside, trapping its inhabitants inside and then set aflame.
“This led [the family] to travel the Freedom Trail through Southern Civil Rights sites from Philadelphia to Mississippi, in search of people’s stories about where they were and what it was like to live through these events,” Henry said. “This then led [the Sadoffs] to their first film, ‘Philadelphia, Mississippi,’ which documents the aftermath and impact on the town where Civil Rights workers Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were slain. Joan Sadoff, Sherry’s mother, returned to gather more stories, as she felt there were still too many untold stories, too much left unsaid, thus leading to the filming of Sisters’.”
After speaking on her family’s experiences, Sadoff invited members of the Trinity audience to share their personal stories of events in their lives that were both life-changing and had left an indelible impression and awareness of the issues of racial disparity and injustice. One attendee, Trinity Assisting Priest Jack Salmon, shared how, as a teen, he and his peers were very excited they were getting new school buses, as theirs were dilapidated and old. He recalled waiting for the new buses for the first time with great excitement, just to see the old buses pass by, full of black students.
“At 14 years old, I knew it wasn’t right,” Salmon said.
Longtime Trinity parishioner Carolyn Weeks added a hopeful note, expressing her faith in young people: “They are not having this. They are going to marry whom they want, regardless of race or gender, and they are going to demand these changes. These kids are not going to tolerate this.”
Lorita Brockington, a retired teacher, explained how she once participated in a training exercise with other teachers that segregated the whites from the minorities, making her aware of how her blackness gave her a sense of pride and shared identification.
“We knew who we were and what we were, whereas, being white was ambiguous,” Brockington said. “Were they German, Italian, Polish, Jewish or other? There was safety and comfort in knowing who we were.”
Hughes, a retired educator, emphasized the importance of involving and educating the youth about their history, and inspiring them to continue to have an impact on their futures, while Dalesandro emphasized the importance of voting and the high cost of apathy and failure to register your voice through voting.
Diane Johnson, a retired veteran, commented on how many young people are unaware of their own history and have no understanding of the sacrifices that were made by others to secure the right to vote and how raising this awareness is crucial, so the right will be cherished and exercised.
“I [can’t] help think that [‘Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders’] will get increasingly more important as time goes by. When we change generations, there is more that is forgotten than we can imagine,” Erik Burro, who provided technical support for the event, added.
The event ended with a reception, the selling of the book, and continued discussion, with excitement about the next event and community discussion to be presented by the God’s Diversity Committee of Trinity Episcopal Church.