Jonathan Daniels

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This article is about the Episcopal seminarian. For the White House Press Secretary, see Jonathan W. Daniels.
Jonathan Daniels
Born March 20, 1939
Keene, New Hampshire
Died 20 August 1965(1965-08-20) (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, known for being killed in Hayneville, Alabama, while working on the civil rights movement in Lowndes County. His death helped widen support for the civil rights movement. In 1991 Daniels was designated as a martyr in the Episcopal church and recognized annually.[1][2] He is memorialized in the civil rights movement and other venues.


Born in Keene, New Hampshire, Jonathan Myrick Daniels was the son of Phillip Brock Daniels (July 14, 1904 - December 1959), a Congregationalist physician, and his wife Constance Weaver (August 20, 1905 - January 9, 1984). Daniels joined the Episcopal Church as a young man and considered a career in the ministry as early as high school. He attended local schools before graduating from the Virginia Military Institute.[3] There 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.

In the fall of 1961, he entered Harvard University to study English Literature. In the spring of 1962, during an Easter service at the Church of the Advent (Boston) in Boston, Daniels felt a renewed conviction that he was being called to serve God. Soon after, he decided to pursue ordination. After a working out family financial problems, he applied and was accepted to the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, starting his studies in 1963 and expecting to graduate in 1966.

Civil Rights work[edit]

Old Hayneville Jail where Daniels and others were held
Varner's Cash Store, 2013

In March 1965, Daniels answered the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, who recruited students and clergy to come to Selma, Alabama, to take part in a march to the state capitol in Montgomery for voting rights. Daniels and several other seminary students left for Alabama on Thursday, and had intended to stay the weekend. After Daniels and friend Judith Upham missed the bus home, they had second thoughts about their short stay. The two returned to school just long enough to request permission to spend the rest of the semester working in Selma, where they would also study on their own and return at the end of the term to take exams. Daniels stayed with the Wests, a local African-American family. During the next months, Daniels worked to integrate the local Episcopal church by taking groups of young African Americans to the church; members were not welcoming. In May, Daniels returned to the seminary to take his semester exams and passed.

He returned to Alabama in July to continue his 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. That summer, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act on August 2, 1965, which would provide federal oversight and enforcement of the constitutional right. Before that, blacks had been effectively disfranchised across the South since the turn of the century.


On August 14, 1965, Daniels was one of a group of 29 protesters, including members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who went to Fort Deposit, Alabama to picket its whites-only stores. All of the protesters were arrested and taken to jail in the nearby town of Hayneville. The police released five juvenile protesters the next day. The rest of the group were 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 near the courthouse jail while one of their members called for transport. Daniels with three others—a white Catholic priest and two female black protesters—walked to buy a cold soft drink at nearby Varner's Cash Store, one of the few local places to serve nonwhites. But barring the front was Tom L. Coleman, an unpaid special deputy who was holding a shotgun and had a pistol in a holster. He threatened the group and leveled his gun at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed her down and caught the full blast of the gun. He was instantly killed. Father Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed Joyce Bailey and ran with her. Coleman shot Morrisroe, severely wounding him in the lower back, but stopped at that.[4]

Upon learning of Daniels' murder, Martin Luther King, Jr. stated "one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels".[5]

A grand jury indicted Coleman for manslaughter. Richmond Flowers, Sr., the Attorney General of Alabama, believed the charge should have been murder and intervened in the prosecution, but was thwarted by the trial judge. He refused to wait until Morrisroe had recovered enough to testify and removed Flowers from the case. Coleman claimed self-defense and was acquitted of manslaughter charges by an all-white jury.[6][7] (Disfranchisement resulted in excluding blacks from jury duty.) Flowers described the verdict as representing the "democratic process going down the drain of irrationality, bigotry and improper law enforcement." [8]

Coleman continued working as an engineer for the state highway department; he died at the age of 86 on June 13, 1997, without having faced further prosecution.[6]

Aftermath and commemoration[edit]

The murder of an educated, white seminarian who was defending an unarmed teenage girl shocked members of the Episcopal Church and other whites into facing the reality of racial inequality. Other members worked to continue the civil rights movement and work for social justice.

Ruby Sales went on to attend Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School). She works as a human rights advocate in Washington, D.C. and founded an inner-city mission dedicated to Daniels.

Representation in other media[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Remembering Jonathan Daniels: Part 2". The Keene Sentinel. August 12, 2005. Retrieved March 23, 2008. [dead link]
  2. ^ For example, his image is included in the webpage of St Andrew's Episcopal Church of Birmingham, Alabama, see
  3. ^ Sanborn, Karen, "Remembering Jonathan Daniels: Part 1", The Keene Sentinel, August 11, 2005.
  4. ^ Reed, Roy. "White Seminarian Slain in Alabama". 
  5. ^ "Jonathan Myrick Daniels (VMI Class of 1961) Civil Rights Hero". Virginia Military Institute. Retrieved February 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Thomas Coleman, 86, Dies; Killed Rights Worker in '65". The New York Times. June 22, 1997. 
  7. ^ a b "Leadership Gallery: Jonathan Daniels, 1939-1965", The Archives of the Episcopal Church.
  8. ^ "Life of John Daniels", Keene Schools material.
  9. ^ The Garden of Gethsemani from Flickr.
  10. ^ Hein, David; Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr. (2004). The Episcopalians. Church Publishing Incorporated. p. 136. ISBN 0-89869-497-3. 
  11. ^ Episcopal News Service, Retrieved November 23, 2013.

External links[edit]