|Jonathan Myrick Daniels 14 August 1965|
Jonathan Myrick Daniels was born in New Hampshire in 1939, one of two offspring of a Congregationalist physician. When in high school, he had a bad fall which put him in the hospital for about a month. It was a time of reflection. Soon after, he joined the Episcopal Church and also began to take his studies seriously, and to consider the possibility of entering the priesthood.
After high school, he enrolled at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia (37:47 N 79:27 W), where at first he seemed a misfit, but managed to stick it out, and was elected Valedictorian [see Definitions, right] of his graduating class.
During his sophomore year at VMI, however, he began to experience uncertainties about his religious faith and his vocation to the priesthood that continued for several years, and were probably influenced by the death of his father and the prolonged illness of his younger sister Emily.
In the fall of 1961 he entered Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston (41:20 N 71.05 W), to study English literature, and in the spring of 1962, while attending Easter services at the Church of the Advent in Boston, he underwent a conversion experience and renewal of grace. Soon after, he made a definite decision to study for the priesthood, and after a year of work to repair the family finances, he enrolled at Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1963, expecting to graduate in the spring of 1966.
In March 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, asked students and others to join him in Selma, Alabama (32:24 N 87:01 W), for a march to the state capital in Montgomery (32:22 N 86:20 W) demonstrating support for his civil rights program. News of the request reached the campus of ETS on Monday 8 March (my sources are a bit confused on the chronology of that week, but I think this is correct), and during Evening Prayer at the chapel, Jon Daniels decided that he ought to go. Later he wrote:
He and others left on Thursday for Selma, intending to stay only that weekend; but he and a friend missed the bus back, and began to reflect on how an in-and-out visit like theirs looked to those living in Selma, and decided that they must stay longer. They went home to request permission to spend the rest of the term in Selma, studying on their own and returning to take their examinations. In Selma, many proposed marches were blocked by rows of policemen. Jon describes one such meeting (ellipses not marked).
Jon devoted many of his Sundays in Selma to bringing small groups of Negroes, mostly high school students, to church with him in an effort to integrate the local Episcopal church. They were seated but scowled at. Many parishioners openly resented their presence, and put their pastor squarely in the middle. (He was integrationist enough to risk his job by accommodating Jon's group as far as he did, but not integrationist enough to satisfy Jon.)
In May, Jon went back to ETS to take examinations and complete other requirements, and in July he returned to Alabama, where he helped to produce a listing of local, state, and federal agencies and other resources legally available to persons in need of assistance.
On Friday 13 August Jon and others went to the town of Fort Deposit (32:00 N 86:36 W) to join in picketing three local businesses.
On Saturday they were arrested and held in the county jail in Hayneville (32:11 N 86:35 W) for six days until they were bailed out. (They had agreed that none would accept bail until there was bail money for all.)
After their release on Friday 20 August, four of them undertook to enter a local shop, and were met at the door by a man with a shotgun who told them to leave or be shot. After a brief confrontation, he aimed the gun at a young girl in the party, and Jon pushed her out of the way and took the blast of the shotgun himself. (Whether he stepped between her and the shotgun is not clear.) He was killed instantly. Not long before his death he wrote:
(Note: Much of Alabama has brick-red clayey soil. The region where the soil is black loam is called "the black belt." The term has no racial referent, although Yankees often assume that it does.)
(Note: Because Bernard of Clairvaux is remembered on 20 August, Jonathan Daniels is remembered on the day of his arrest, 14 August.)
Source: The Jon Daniels Story, ed. William J Schneider (Seabury Press, NY, 1967; 67-20940)
O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
written by James Kiefer
|Notes for this article:
The Jon Daniels Story