Two months ago, Claudette Votor was laid up in a hospital bed, thinking she was in the fight of her life.
“They thought it was cancer,” Votor said. “I just looked up at the cross on the wall, and all I could say was, ‘Help.’
“That’s what I do,” she said. “I don’t ask God not to send me burdens. I ask Jesus for strength to deal with the problem. I find that is far better. Just give me the strength to deal with what is wrong.”
While Little Rock was hit with snow and freezing temperatures, the sanctuary of the Cathedral of St. Andrew was filled with warmth during the 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mass Saturday, Jan. 15. During the celebration, Votor, a member of St. Augustine Catholic Church in North Little Rock, was presented the 2022 Daniel Rudd Award for her impact on her parish and community.
“I’m perfect, now,” she said. “I got over all the problems I was in there for.”
A mother and grandmother, Voter, 89, retired from American Airlines. She was recognized for her community and political activism and for serving in numerous roles at St. Augustine over the years.
“I’m so flattered and just shocked, humbled, to be recognized.”
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor concelebrated the Mass, sponsored by the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics, with Father Warren Harvey, the bishop’s liaison for the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics; Father Leon W. Ngandu, SVD, pastor of St. Augustine Church in North Little Rock and St. Bartholomew Church in Little Rock; and Deacon Richard Papini of St. Joseph Church in Conway.
In his homily, Bishop Taylor said, “We Catholics expect people of different ethnicities to be able to worship together routinely without it being a big deal. We do not always live up to the best that is in us, but we do know that Jesus expects us to include everyone because we are a single family of believers. All are welcome.”
The congregation gave him an ovation when he said, “This human dimension is what is missing in our national discourse — hence the need to insist repeatedly that Black lives really do matter because as a country we don’t act that way. Look at the glaring disparities in access to health care and medical outcomes, in education, in law enforcement, in employment and indeed almost every other area of life.”
The Mass is held in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Jan. 15, 1929-April 4, 1968), the foremost civil rights activist in the United States from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Inspired by his Christian beliefs and the activism of Mahatma Gandhi, King used great oratory and a strategy of nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring light to the struggle. In 1955, with Rosa Parks, he was a leader of the 382-day bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., which led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling segregation in transportation unconstitutional. In 1957, he was elected the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1963, he led massive protests in Birmingham, Ala., which led to his arrest and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Later that year, he directed 250,000 people in a march in Washington, D.C., where he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial. In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That same year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which effectively ended Jim Crow laws. On Apr. 4, 1968, he was assassinated while standing on the balcony outside his motel room in Memphis. The night before, he seemingly predicted his death in his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech. Just days after King’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2003. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.
Since 1985, the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics has given the memorial Daniel Rudd Award to Black Catholics in Arkansas whose outstanding leadership impacts their parish and community. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Daniel Arthur Rudd (1854–1933) was born enslaved in Bardstown, Ky., in 1854. After the Civil War, he joined siblings in Ohio, where he learned the printing industry. He believed in the ability to succeed if given the opportunity and began advocating for equality and integration and the welcome and benefits the Catholic Church provides African Americans.
“The Catholic Church alone can break the color line. Our people should help her to do it,” he said.
From 1886-1897, he owned and published the American Catholic Tribune, “one of the most prolific black-owned weekly journals of the time.” He organized the Colored Catholic Congress, which met from 1889 to 1894. In 1912, he moved to Arkansas to help establish a sawmill for Scott Bond in Madison. By 1920, he was working as an accountant and teacher in Marion. Bishop John Morris asked him to represent Black Catholics in Arkansas at the Eucharistic Congress in 1926. Rudd suffered a stroke in 1932, returned to his hometown and died there in 1933.
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