Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Martyr Jonathan Daniels

It is a sweet moment to remember, even in the midst of sadness,
[but racism] is as alive today as it was then. . . 
[and] my soul cannot rest.
~ Ruby Sales on Being Saved by Daniels*

Tomorrow, August 20, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Episcopal seminarian and civil rights activist and martyr Jonathan Daniels (March 20, 1939 - August 20, 1965). This past Sunday, my own small parish joined other Episcopal churches throughout the United States in remembering him (his feast day is August 14), sparking my curiosity about Daniels.

Having heard and responded to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's call to students and clergy in the North to join the march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama [see my post of August 5, 2015], Daniels decided to embrace the cause and struggle for civil rights in the state, living with a black family and sharing his life with theirs. He continued agitating for rights for African Americans, including putting an end to segregation in a local Episcopal church. Months after Selma, he participated in a protest demonstration in Ft. Deposit, Alabama, where on August 14, 1965, he and more than two dozen others were arrested and consigned to a deplorable county jail in Hayneville, in Lowndes County. (Daniels shared his cell with Kwame Ture a.k.a. Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998) of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.) Six days later, following an unexpected and unexplained release from jail, Daniels walked to a nearby store with 17-year-old African-American Ruby Sales, another rights worker and marcher, 19-year-old Joyce Bailey, and Roman Catholic priest Douglas Morrisroe, at 26 the same age as Daniels. The four, wanting only to buy something cold to quench their thirst, were met at the store entrance by Tom Coleman, a deputy sheriff who, cursing, raised his shotgun to Sales, who was in front of her colleagues, and ordered them off the property. In seconds, Coleman fired his gun, hitting Daniels and killing him instantly. Daniels, having attempted to save  Sales's life, had pushed her aside; she fell to the ground. Coleman fired again, shooting Morrisroe in the back; severely wounded, he survived. Sales managed to crawl to Bailey and both were able to get away. The details of the murder and what happened afterward — an all-white jury acquitted Coleman of manslaughter charges — are set out in the recent feature "Remembering Jonathan Daniels" from Episcopal News Service (August 13, 2015); the video below, describing that day in 1965, accompanies the article:

In 1966, Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School), the Cambridge, Massachusetts, seminary in which Daniels was enrolled, established a fellowship in Daniels's name. Decades later, in 1991, Daniels's seminary class of 1966 created a memorial lectureship to honor him, and The Episcopal Church added Daniels to its annual commemorations calendar. Subsequently, Daniels was officially designated a martyr of the church. Other acts that pay homage to Daniels's sacrifice and legacy are noted in the article cited above. (Also see the resources below.)

Daniels also is the subject of the excellent documentary Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels, produced in 1999 by Lawrence Benaquist and William Sullivan. I've embedded below the 57:24-minute documentary, which I have watched.

Sadly, the social justice and other issues that Daniel confronted in 1965 and for which he gave his life remain with us today. We still have so much to learn and do.

Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels from Episcopal Marketplace on Vimeo.

* After creating this post on August 16, my hometown newspaper The Washington Post published in its print edition the next morning Michael E. Ruane's interesting article "Black Civil Rights Activist Recalls White Ally Who Took a Shotgun Blast for Her". It is from this article that I took Sales's quote that appears above this post.

Some resources worth browsing are:

Commemoration 2015 (Year-Long Calendar of Events)

Jonathan Daniels at Washington National Cathedral (A bust of Daniels, by stone carver Sean Callahan, will become part of the Cathedral's Human Rights Porch when it is dedicated in October. Read "Carving of Activist Jonathan Myrick Daniels to Be Added to National Cathedral" at WAMU.)

"The Church Awakens: African-Americans and the Struggle for Justice": Leadership Gallery: Jonathan Daniels and The Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity

Virginia Military Institute Online Resources (Daniels was a 1961 graduate of VMI.)

"The Murder of Civil Rights Activist Jonathan Daniels, August 20, 1965", Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia

Annual Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage, The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama

Steve Gilbert, "Bridge to the Past: Many touched by Jonathan Daniels's Life and Legacy Return to Alabama to Remember", Sentinel Source, The Keene Sentinel, August 15, 2015

Charles W. Eagles, Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama (University of Alabama Press, 2000)

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