Black Catholic nuns: A compelling, long-overlooked history

  • Six Catholic nuns, including Sister Mary Antona Ebo, front row fourth from left, lead a march in Selma, Ala., on March 10, 1965, in support of Black voting rights and in protest of the violence of Bloody Sunday when white state troopers brutally dispersed peaceful Black demonstrators. The group was within a hundred feet of a black church when the police blocked their way. (AP Photo/File)

  • Sister Anthonia Ugwu, left, and Sister Mary Ngina, both nuns with the Oblate Sisters of Providence (OSP), joke around with each other as they pose for a portrait in the chapel at Saint Frances Academy, in Baltimore, Md., April 27. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

  • This 1898 photo provided by the Sisters of the Holy Family (SSF) shows members of the religious order of African-American nuns in New Orleans. One of the oldest Black sisterhoods, the SSF, formed in New Orleans in 1842 because white sisterhoods in Louisiana, including the slave-holding Ursuline order, refused to accept African Americans. (SSF via AP)

Even as a young adult, Shannen Dee Williams — who grew up Black and Catholic in Memphis, Tennessee — knew of only one Black nun, and a fake one at that: Sister Mary Clarence, as played by Whoopi Goldberg in the comic film “Sister Act.”