Video: Jonathan Daniels’ companions in Alabama recall his life, death

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Aug 27, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Keene, New Hampshire] Five people who worked alongside Jonathan Daniels in the struggle for civil rights in Alabama in 1965 gathered at his home parish, St. James Episcopal Church, on Aug. 22 to reminisce about the seminarian who died when he was 26 years old.

Daniels died Aug. 20, 1965, in Hayneville, Alabama, by stepping in front of a shotgun aimed at then-16-year-old Ruby Sales.

The Episcopal Church added Daniels to its Lesser Feasts and Fasts calendar of commemorations in 1994. His feast day is Aug. 14, the day of his arrest.

The panel discussion included:
Sales, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) volunteer in Lowndes County, Alabama, in 1965, who now operates the Atlanta, Georgia-based SpiritHouse Project to work for racial, economic and social justice.

Richard Morrisroe, a Chicago, Illinois-area Roman Catholic priest when he was shot in the back just after Daniels was killed, who now works as a city planner for East Chicago, Indiana.

Gloria House (then Gloria Larry), a SNCC field secretary when she was arrested and jailed with Daniels, who is a professor emerita of humanities and African-American studies at the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

Jimmy Rogers, a former member of the U.S. Air Force and later SNCC volunteer when he was arrested and jailed with Daniels after leading a protest, who later became a probation officer in Oakland, California.

The Rev. Judith Upham, a fellow seminarian with Daniels at Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who went to Alabama with Daniels in March 1965. She stayed with Daniels in Alabama, working in the civil right movement. She was not with Daniels at the time of his death because she was fulfilling the school’s clinical pastoral education requirement at a state mental hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.

Sales, Morrisroe, House and Rogers were all arrested with others on Aug. 14, 1965, while participating in a demonstration against discriminatory practices by businesses in Fort Deposit, Alabama. They were held for six days in a filthy jail in Hayneville, the county seat of Lowndes County. When they were released without bail and without explanation on Aug. 20, they say they feared that they were being set up.

While waiting for a ride from other SNCC workers and after having been ordered off the jail property, Daniels, Morrisroe, Sales and another black demonstrator, Joyce Bailey, walked to buy soda for the group at Varner’s Cash Store, about 50 yards from the jail. Thomas Coleman, a county special deputy wielding a 12-gauge automatic pump shotgun, stood in the doorway of the store. He crudely ordered them off the property.

Daniels, who had just opened the store’s door for Ruby, pulled her out of the way and the blast from Coleman’s shotgun hit him at point-blank range. Morrisroe turned to run, pulling Bailey by the hand. Coleman shot him in the back. Morrisroe spent six months in the hospital.

House and Rogers were in the group that had waited at the courthouse. They witnessed the shooting and ran to neighboring house begging for help, to no avail. Eventually ambulances came to take away Daniels’ body and to take Morrisroe for treatment.

The Aug. 22 gathering was the first time Morrisroe and Rogers had seen each other in 50 years.

The panel discussion was the second of two held at St. James on Aug. 22. This video features some of the highlights of the discussion, which was moderated by Sandra Neil Wallace, who with her husband Rich Wallace, have written Blood Brother A Civil Rights Hero’s Sacrifice for Justice, a book for young people due to be published in September 2016 by Calkins Creek/Boyd Mills Press.

Earlier in the day, five long-time acquaintances of Daniels discussed their friendship and his influence on their lives. An edited video recording of their reminiscences is here.

Daniels’ five Alabama companions participated in another panel discussion that evening in the Colonial Theater in downtown Keene after a screening to a packed house of the 1999 nearly hour-long documentary Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels, produced by Keene State College professors Lawrence Benaquist and William Sullivan. The documentary, narrated by actor Sam Waterston, is viewable here.

The program for the night included a page of suggestions for action, including “Resolve to do something this year that will further Jonathan’s legacy and that will make a difference in the lives of others. It can be a small step or a big leap.” The suggestions started with getting acquainted with one’s neighbors and learning how one might serve them. Other suggestions included becoming an informed voter (and registering to vote) and exploring volunteer opportunities.

Sales preached during a commemorative Eucharist at St. James on Aug. 23. The Eucharist was followed by a 2.3-mile “walk of remembrance” to the Daniels’ family gravesite in Monadnock View Cemetery for a service.

The Aug. 23 events rounded out a year’s worth of events that had been organized by members of St. James Episcopal Church and others.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.