Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview
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§125 Jonathan Daniels

Jonathan Daniels was born on March 20, 1939 in Keene, New Hampshire. His father was a physician and his mother was a schoolteacher. After graduating from high school, Daniels attended Virginia Military Institute and graduated as valedictorian. Daniels enrolled at Harvard University in the fall of 1961 with the intention of studying English Literature. In 1963, after a religious awakening, he decided to attend the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In March of 1965, Daniels responded to Martin Luther King Jr.’s plea to join the voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama. After participating in the Selma to Montgomery march, Daniels decided to stay on in the area and work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) primarily in voter registration work in Lowndes County, known among activists as Bloody Lowndes. While in Alabama, Daniels assisted in integrating the local Episcopal church. He also helped assemble a list of federal, state, and local agencies that could aid those in need and he worked with poor local residents to apply for aid as well. He served as a tutor to children and worked to register voters.

On August 13, 1965, Daniels went with an integrated group to picket whiteonly stores in Fort Deposit, Alabama. The following day, all the protestors were arrested and jailed in Hayneville, Alabama. On August 20, after a surprise early release from jail, Daniels and Reverend Richard Morrisroe along with two African American women, Ruby Sales and Joyce Bailey, walked to the Cash Store to buy soft drinks. When the group was asked to leave, Daniels protested. Tom Coleman, a white man from a prominent local family and friend of store owner Virginia Varner, shot Daniels in the chest at point-blank range with a 12-gauge shotgun . Despite several witnesses, an all-white jury later found Coleman not guilty for the killing. They rendered their verdict in 91 minutes. In 1991 Daniels was designated as a martyr of the Episcopal church.

The paper, read by Reverend William J. Wolf at Daniels’s funeral, is an intensely personal and philosophical reflection of Daniels’s civil rights work in Alabama. In the paper, Daniels explains what led him to Selma. He discusses his initial

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