Jonathan Daniels

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Jonathan Daniels
Jonathan Daniels.jpg
Seminarian and civil rights activist
BornJonathan Myrick Daniels
March 20, 1939
Keene, New Hampshire, U.S.
DiedAugust 20, 1965(1965-08-20) (aged 26)
Hayneville, Alabama, U.S.
Venerated inAnglican Communion
FeastAugust 14

Jonathan Myrick Daniels (March 20, 1939 – August 20, 1965) was an Episcopal seminarian and civil rights activist. In 1965, he was killed by a special county deputy, Tom Coleman, who was a construction worker, in Hayneville, Alabama, while in the act of shielding 17-year-old Ruby Sales.[1] He saved the life of the young Black civil rights activist. They were both working in the nonviolent civil rights movement in Lowndes County to integrate public places and register Black voters after passage of the Voting Rights Act that summer. Daniels' death generated further support for the civil rights movement.

In 1991, Daniels was designated as a martyr in the Episcopal church, and is recognized annually in its calendar.[2][3]


Born in Keene, New Hampshire, Jonathan Myrick Daniels was the son of Phillip Brock Daniels, a physician and Congregationalist, and his wife Constance Weaver. Daniels considered a career in the ministry as early as high school and joined the Episcopal Church as a young man. He attended local schools before graduating from the Virginia Military Institute.[4] 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.[citation needed]

In the fall of 1961, Daniels entered Harvard University to study English literature. In the spring of 1962, during an Easter service at the Church of the Advent 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 of 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 Martin Luther King Jr., who recruited students and clergy to join the movement in Selma, Alabama, to take part in the march for voting rights from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Daniels and several other seminary students left for Alabama on Thursday, intending 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 the seminary 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.

In Selma, 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. The church members were not welcoming. In May, Daniels returned to the seminary to take his semester exams and passed.

Daniels returned to Alabama in July to continue his work. He helped assemble a list of federal, state, and local agencies that could provide assistance for those in need. He also tutored children, helped poor locals apply for aid, and worked to register voters. That summer, on August 2, 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act which would provide broad federal oversight and enforcement of the constitutional right to vote. Before that, blacks had been effectively disenfranchised 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. They were transported in a garbage truck and taken to jail in the nearby town of Hayneville. The police released five juvenile protesters the next day. The rest of the group was held for six days in a facility which lacked air conditioning.[5] Authorities refused to accept bail for anyone 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 black female activists—walked to buy a cold soft drink at nearby Varner's Cash Store, one of the few local places to serve non-whites. But barring the front was Tom L. Coleman, an unpaid special deputy who was holding a shotgun and had a pistol in a holster. Coleman threatened the group and leveled his gun at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed Sales down and caught the full blast of the shotgun. He was instantly killed by the shot. Father Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed activist Joyce Bailey and ran with her. Coleman shot Morrisroe, severely wounding him in the lower back, and then stopped firing.[6]

Upon learning of Daniels' murder, Martin Luther King Jr. stated that "one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels."[7]

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 T. Werth Thagard. He refused to wait until Morrisroe had recovered enough to testify and removed Flowers from the case. Coleman claimed self-defense, although Morrisroe and the others were unarmed, and was acquitted of manslaughter charges by an all-white jury.[8][9] (Disfranchisement had resulted in excluding blacks from jury duty, as only voters were called.) Flowers described the verdict as representing the "democratic process going down the drain of irrationality, bigotry and improper law enforcement."[10]

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.[8]

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 violent reality of racial inequality in the South.[citation needed] 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, DC, and founded an inner-city mission dedicated to Daniels.

Representation in other media[edit]


  1. ^ "50 Years Ago, A White Seminarian Gave His Life to the Civil Rights Movement". NPR. August 20, 2015. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Remembering Jonathan Daniels: Part 2". The Keene Sentinel. August 12, 2005. Retrieved March 23, 2008.
  3. ^ His image is included in the webpage of St Andrew's Episcopal Church of Birmingham, Alabama, see
  4. ^ Sanborn, Karen, "Remembering Jonathan Daniels: Part 1", The Keene Sentinel, August 11, 2005.
  5. ^ "Jonathan Daniels · The Archives of the Episcopal Church · The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice". Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  6. ^ Reed, Roy. "White Seminarian Slain in Alabama".
  7. ^ "Jonathan Myrick Daniels (VMI Class of 1961) Civil Rights Hero". Virginia Military Institute. Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Thomas Coleman, 86, Dies; Killed Rights Worker in '65". The New York Times. June 22, 1997.
  9. ^ a b "Leadership Gallery: Jonathan Daniels, 1939–1965", The Archives of the Episcopal Church.
  10. ^ "Life of John Daniels" Archived 2009-10-14 at the Wayback Machine, Keene Schools material.
  11. ^ The Garden of Gethsemani from Flickr.
  12. ^ Hein, David; Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr (2004). The Episcopalians. Church Publishing Incorporated. p. 136. ISBN 0-89869-497-3.
  13. ^ "American martyr: Jonathan Daniels". Episcopal Church. March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  14. ^ "Jonathan Myrick Daniels". The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved July 3, 2019.
  15. ^ Episcopal News Service Archived December 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  16. ^ Josselyn-Cranson, Heather, ed. (2013). For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists (2nd ed.). Order of Saint Luke Publications. p. 227. ISBN 978-1491076088.
  17. ^ "Washington National Cathedral". Retrieved August 14, 2020.
  18. ^ "Here Am I, Send Me: The Journey of Jonathan Daniels - TV Guide". Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  19. ^ "Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels". Vimeo. Retrieved October 15, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Daniels, Jonathan Myrick (1992) [1967]. Schneider, William J. (ed.). American Martyr: The Jon Daniels Story. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing. ISBN 978-0819215864. Originally published as The Jon Daniels Story: with his Letters and Papers (New York: Seabury Press, 1967).
  • Eagles, Charles (2000) [1993]. Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0817310691. Originally published under same title by the University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, 1993).

External links[edit]