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Civil rights martyr remembered with documentary video and special events

By Nan Ross
2002-184
7/29/2002
[Episcopal News Service]  Every year in mid-August, during busy back-to-school days and end-of-summer vacations, Alabama Episcopalians stop to honor the life of Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian from New England who was shot and killed in Hayneville, Alabama, on August 20, 1965, during the struggle for civil rights. To support this year's activities, each parish in the Diocese of Alabama will receive a special video documentary about Daniels.

Daniels was declared 'a martyr and witness to the Gospel' and in 1994 his name was added to the Episcopal Church calendar of saints and martyrs, to be remembered on August 14 each year. All Episcopal churches are encouraged to remember Daniels with special prayers and programs this year on Sunday, August 18.

The Diocese of Alabama will host several events August 16 and 17 in Hayneville, the town where Daniels died, to remember him and 12 others who were martyred in Alabama for the same cause. Episcopalians from the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast, who alternate with their neighboring diocese in hosting the annual remembrance, will take part too.

Martyrs for civil rights

To increase awareness about Daniels' life, the Diocese of Alabama's Race Relations Commission has purchased 100 video copies of a documentary--'Here Am I, Send Me: The Journey of Jonathan Daniels'--for each of its congregations. Narrated by Sam Waterston, the hour-long documentary is available exclusively through the Episcopal Media Center in Atlanta.

Joanna Ware, co-chair of Alabama's commission, said, 'I had heard about Jonathan Daniels but didn't know a lot about his life. This video, which I discovered on a shelf in our diocesan office, created an image of him for me and let me gain a sense of his life story. The visuals of his childhood meant a lot. The video does a great job of providing the right amount of information and making you feel connected to his story and to the cause that he died for. I was moved by the fact that this event took place in Alabama and he was an Episcopalian, and that he was so young yet was able to act on his convictions.'

Adele Stockham, co-chair for the events in Hayneville, said special programs for young people, including a work day and barbecue, are planned for August 16. The next day participants will meet at the courthouse for Holy Eucharist, with suffragan bishop Mark Andrus officiating and priest and longtime civil rights activist Francis Walter preaching. They will then process, carrying banners and crosses, to the jail where Daniels was imprisoned and finally to the store where he was shot and killed.

'It has always been our goal to work in partnership with the people of Hayneville to help make something better come of this,' Stockham said. 'This year we are making a special effort to honor all 13 of the people who were martyred for civil rights in Alabama.'

Heroic Christian deeds

Daniels' murder prompted outcries from many and is believed to have contributed to a turning point in America's battle for equality among the races. At the time, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry and career for civil rights was performed by Jonathan Daniels.'

A student at the Episcopal Theological Seminary (now Episcopal Divinity School) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a native of Keene, New Hampshire, Daniels answered King's call to march from Selma to Montgomery in the spring of 1965 and help register African-American voters in the South.

That summer he was arrested with 20 others at a demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama. After refusing bail and spending several days in jail in Hayneville, the group was released without explanation. A few minutes later, while trying to enter a store with a Roman Catholic priest and two African-American girls, Daniels was shot to death by a deputy sheriff. His last act was to push one of the girls out of the line of fire. He was 26.

The Episcopal Media Center is an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to proclaim the gospel through popular media. 'Here Am I, Send Me: The Journey of Jonathan Daniels' is available on videocassette by calling 1-800-229-3788 or at www.episcopalmedia.org/newsletter/index.html.