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Jonathan Daniels
Jonathan Myrick Daniels (on right)
Born March 20, 1939, Keene, New Hampshire
Died 20 August 1965 (aged 26), Hayneville, Alabama
Venerated in Episcopal Church USA
Feast August 14

Jonathan Myrick Daniels (March 20, 1939 – August 20, 1965) was an Episcopal seminarian, killed for his work in the American civil rights movement. His death helped galvanize support for the civil rights movement within the Episcopal church. He is regarded as a martyr in the Episcopal church. [1][2] One of the five elementary schools in his hometown of Keene, New Hampshire is named in memory of him.

Biography

Born in Keene, New Hampshire, Jonathan Myrick Daniels was the child of a Phillip Brock Daniels (14 July 1904 - December 1959), a Congregationalist physician and Constance Weaver (20 August 1905 - 9 January 1984). Daniels joined the Episcopal Church as a young man and considered a career in the ministry as early as high school. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute after graduating from Keene High School,[3] where he began to question his religious faith during his sophomore year, possibly because his father died and his sister Emily suffered an extended illness at the same time. He graduated as valedictorian of his class and, in the fall of 1961, entered Harvard University to study English Literature. In the spring of 1962, Daniels was attending an Easter service at the Church of the Advent in Boston, and felt his doubt disappear, to be replaced with a renewed conviction that he was being called to serve God. Soon after, he decided to pursue ordination, and after a period of working out family financial problems, he applied and was accepted to Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, starting his studies in 1963 and expecting to graduate in 1966.

Civil Rights work

In March 1965, Daniels answered the call of The Rev'd Dr. Martin Luther King, who asked that students and clergy come to Selma, Alabama to take part in a march to the state capital in Montgomery. Daniels and several other seminary students left for Alabama on Thursday, and had intended to only stay the weekend, but Daniels and friend Judith Upham missed the bus home. Forced to stay a little longer, Daniels and Upham realized how badly it must appear to the native civil rights workers that they were only willing to stay a few days. Convinced they should stay longer, the two went back to school just long enough to request permission to spend the rest of the semester in Selma, studying on their own and returning at the end of the term to take exams. Daniels stayed with a local African-American family. During the next months, Daniels devoted himself to integrating the local Episcopal church, taking groups of young African-Americans to the church, where they were usually scowled at or ignored. In May, Daniels traveled back to school to take his semester exams, and having passed, he came back to Alabama in July to continue his work. Among his other work, Daniels helped assemble a list of Federal, state, and local agencies that could provide assistance to those in need. He also tutored children, helped poor locals apply for aid, and worked to register voters.

Murder

On August 13, 1965, Daniels, in a group of 29 protesters, went to picket whites-only stores in the small town of Fort Deposit, Alabama. All of the protesters were arrested and taken to jail in the nearby town of Hayneville. Five juvenile protesters were released the next day. The rest of the group was held for six days; they refused to accept bail unless everyone was bailed. Finally, on August 20, the prisoners were released without transport back to Fort Deposit. After release, the group waited by a road nearby the jail. Daniels with three others — a white Catholic priest and two black protesters--went down the street to get a cold soft drink at Varner's Grocery Store, one of the few local stores that would serve nonwhites. They were met at the front by Tom L. Coleman, an engineer for the state highway department and unpaid special deputy, who wielded a shotgun. The man threatened the group, and finally leveled his gun at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed Sales down to the ground and caught the full blast of the gun. He was killed instantly. The priest, Richard F. Morrisroe, grabbed the other protester and ran. Coleman shot Morrisroe, wounding him in the lower back.[4]

Aftermath

The murder of an educated, white, priest-in-training who was defending an unarmed teenage girl helped shock the Episcopal Church into facing the reality of racial inequality that it had tacitly participated in and continued. Daniels' death helped put civil rights on the map as a goal for the church as a whole, and reminded many upper class white Episcopalians that this struggle was not nearly so distant as they had imagined it to be. Daniels' killer was acquitted by a jury of twelve white men, on the grounds of "self-defense" (the killer claimed Daniels had a knife, which is extremely unlikely given that no one with Daniels saw any knife, Daniels had just come out of a week in jail, and the police who investigated never found any weapon).

In 1991, Jonathan Myrick Daniels was designated a martyr of the Episcopal Church, one of fifteen modern-day martyrs, and August 14 was designated as a day of remembrance for the sacrifice of Daniels and all the martyrs of the civil rights movement. Ruby Sales, the teenager whose life Daniels saved, went on to attend Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School) herself, and has gone on to work as a human rights advocate in Washington, D.C. as well as founding an inner-city mission dedicated to Daniels. Virginia Military Institute created the Jonathan Daniels Humanitarian Award in 1998, of which former President Jimmy Carter has been a recipient. The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast sponsor a yearly pilgrimage in Hayneville on August 14, commemorating Daniels and all other martyrs of the civil rights movement.

Daniels was the subject of University of Mississippi history professor Charles Eagles's 1993 book Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, which won the Lillian Smith Award that year.

Coleman, won an acquittal by an all white jury by claiming self-defense. He died on June 13,1997 at his home in Hayneville, Ala., the scene of the infamous 1965 killing, at the age of 86.[5]

A play by Lowell Williams, Six Nights in the Black Belt, chronicles the events around the murder of Daniels. It also highlights the relationship between Daniels and then Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member Stokely Carmichael, with whom he shared a cell.

Daniels was portrayed by Mackenzie Astin in the film Selma, Lord, Selma.

Commemoration

One of the five elementary schools in his hometown of Keene, New Hampshire, is named after him.[1] He is also one of forty martyrs memorialized at Southern Poverty Law Center's Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Remembering Jonathan Daniels: Part 2". The Keene Sentinel. 2005-08-12. http://www.sentinelsource.com/main.asp?SectionID=49&SubSectionID=675&ArticleID=77029. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  2. For example, his image is included in the webpage of St Andrew's Episcopal Church of Birmingham, Alabama, see http://www.standrews-birmingham.org/
  3. "Remembering Jonathan Daniels: Part 1". The Keene Sentinel. 2005-08-11. http://www.sentinelsource.com/main.asp?SectionID=49&SubSectionID=675&ArticleID=77028. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  4. Reed, Roy. "White Seminarian Slain in Alabama". 
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/22/us/thomas-coleman-86-dies-killed-rights-worker-in-65.html

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