About Jonathan Daniels
Daniels was born in Keene on March 20, 1939. Raised a Congregationalist, he joined St. James Episcopal Church while in high school. After high school he enrolled in Virginia Military Institute, graduating first in his class. An initial interest in the priesthood waned while Daniels was in college, but returned when, as a graduate student at Harvard University, he attended Easter services at the Church of the Advent in Boston. The renewal of his faith led Daniels to enter Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA in the fall of 1963, sponsored by his home parish, St. James Episcopal Church.
On March 7, 1965, after hearing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call on "clergy of all faiths ... to join me in Selma [Alabama] for a ministers` march to the state capital of Montgomery ..." Daniels went south, participated in the march, and then stayed on in the area to tutor children in reading, to register voters, and to help integrate a local Episcopal Church. In May Daniels went back to Cambridge to complete examinations. Moved by singing the Magnificat at Evening Prayer, he decided to return to Alabama to continue working with the civil rights movement.
On Saturday, August 14, Daniels was picketing local businesses with others in Fort Deposit, AL. They were arrested and held in the county jail in Hayneville before being released on August 20. As the day was hot, Daniels and three others--the Rev. Richard Morrisroe (a Roman Catholic priest), Joyce Bailey, and Ruby Sales--approached a local store to buy sodas. The entrance was blocked by a man with a shotgun, Tom Coleman, who threatened to shoot if they tried to enter. During the confrontation, Coleman aimed the gun at Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed her out of the way and was shot in the chest, dying instantly. Father Morrisroe was shot in the back as he and Joyce Bailey ran for safety.
The Rev. John Morris, civil rights leader and founder and director of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, accompanied Daniels` body back to Keene, where it lay in state at St. James Church before the funeral on August 24. More than 800 people attended the service, with the overflow group crowding the sidewalk near the church. Sympathy messages came from President Lyndon B. Johnson, New Hampshire Governor John W. King, and senators and congressmen. Daniels was laid to rest in Monadnock View Cemetery in Keene. His epitaph reads: Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Tom Coleman, who fired the fatal shot from a 12-gauge shotgun, was acquitted of manslaughter on grounds of self-defense after claiming that Daniels had a knife, though no weapon was ever found. None of Daniels` companions was permitted to testify at the trial. The all-white jury deliberated less than two hours before returning the not-guilty verdict. The Alabama attorney general, quoted by the press, declared the trial "the democratic process going down the drain of irrationality, bigotry and improper enforcement of the law."
Jonathan Myrick Daniels is listed in the Memorial Book of the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral in Great Britain, along with one other American martyr, Dr. King. His portrait hangs in a wing of that great cathedral. In July 1991, at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a resolution was adopted to add Jonathan Daniels` name to the church calendar of saints. He is remembered on August 14. St. James celebrates his memory every August with a special service. A memorial display, created by local designer Ruth Sterling, occupies a corner of the church. In October 2015, a bust of Jonathan Daniel was consecrated at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The Jonathan Daniels Building, located beside the church, houses a counseling center and the St. James Thrift Shop.
For more information about Jonathan Daniels, visit the Jonathan Daniels Center for Social Responsibility.