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[ENS] Jonathan Daniels and other civil rights martyrs honored at
Worldwide Faith News <email@example.com>
Wed, 27 Aug 2003 14:23:48 -0700
Jonathan Daniels and other civil rights martyrs honored at Alabama event
by E. T. Malone Jr
[ENS] This is where the blood of the martyr was spilled, called out
Bishop Philip Duncan of the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast, and scores of
men, women, and children, black and white, surged silently forward to
lay their hands on the rough concrete of the storefront porch in
Hayneville, Alabama, where Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Myrick Daniels
was slain by a shotgun blast on August 20, 1965.
Processing from the Lowndes County courthouse square, a throng of
between 500 and 600 pilgrims set off at midday, ringing small bells and
carrying crosses and banners from Episcopal parishes throughout the
sponsoring dioceses of Alabama and Central Gulf Coast, along with a
local organization, Rural Enrichment Accessing Community Hands (REACH).
The commemoration is now in its fifth year.
They walked under a broiling August sun, much the way it was 38 years
ago, observers noted. Dogs barked in the distance, and local police
hovered around the edge of the crowd.
But most of the marchers were white, and most were from outside the
local community. Arriving in church vans and SUVs with Episcopal Church
shield stickers on the rear windows, they appeared as if from out of
nowhere in late morning, jamming all available parking spaces around the
courthouse square and shady neighborhood streets nearby.
A passing car paused and the driver rolled down one of its windows. The
passengers, several local black women, asked what was going on. Are all
these folks here to support Judge Moore and the Ten Commandments? asked
one woman inside, referring to Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice
Roy Moore, who has been suspended from office for refusing to obey a
court order to remove a two-ton stone tablet with the Ten Commandments
from the state judicial buildings entrance. Hundreds of his supporters
have camped out around the building, vowing to prevent removal of the
Hayneville does not have an Episcopal church, and members of tiny St.
Pauls in Lowndesboro, about seven miles away, have only recently
participated more openly in the event.
St. Pauls hosted a dinner and Taizi service attended by 38 people the
night before the pilgrimage, but of those, only one was
African-American: Fannie Davis, one of the pilgrimages local
I think the folks at St. Pauls are in a difficult position. Theyre
being mighty brave, said their part-time priest-in-charge, the Rev.
John M. Keith. This is a close-knit, rural county, and there are people
in Lowndesboro who are kin to members of that jury who found Jonathan
Daniels killer not guilty back in 1965.
Black people make up about 85% of the population in Lowndes County, but
they were unable to vote prior to the mid-1960s, when the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other groups began voter
registration drives which met with violent opposition from elements of
the minority white community.
Daniels, who had been released earlier in the day from the county jail,
was killed as he sought to protect Ruby Sales, a young African-American
woman who eventually became an Episcopal priest.
Changed, but not enough
Now the county seat, Hayneville has a black mayor, Cecil Williams, who
issued a greeting to the pilgrims when they assembled in the courthouse
for a church service.
But the Rev. Jacquelyn Rowe, rector of Good Shepherd in Mobile, who
preached at the service, warned that we have grown too comfortable and
noted that racism is still alive and well. Lord, change our name! she
One of the marchers echoed that sentiment. This is looking back at a
very hard past that Alabama has, cant escape, and has to move away
from. And frankly, as somebody coming new to the area, Ive seen more
racism than any place Ive ever lived, and thats white racism and black
racism, and more hatred than any place Ive ever been, said Larry
Beaury, a white parishioner at St. Francis in Indian Springs, Alabama.
Capriel Webb, 12, who is African-American, of Fairfield, Alabama, was
marching in the procession with Megan Brown, 12, and Ashley Brown, 10,
both of Birmingham. All three were at the Daniels pilgrimage for the
first time. Webb, who hopes to be a nurse someday, said she feels that
today as an American she can pursue any future she wants. I came today
to see how it was like back then, she said.
Is the world today better or worse than it was then? A little bit of
both. The world has changed. Its good, observed Webb.
Jimmy Rogers, one of the black teenagers with Daniels when he was
killed, spoke briefly to the crowd in the packed courtroom, saying that
black Alabamans appreciated the efforts of white people on their behalf
during the civil rights movement.
But such whites were particularly hated by local segregationists, said
one speaker. Daniels was branded as an outside agitator, a phrase that
eventually became the title of a 1993 book about him by Charles W.
Alabama Bishop Suffragan Mark Andrus said, What happens here today is
an opportunity for Episcopalians to search for reconciliation across all
lines that divide us.
He noted, This is part of Gods love for the world, this experience. We
are walking into this pilgrimage together. We will be changedbe open to
what will work among us today. It is with such material that God changes
A group of Alabama youth and their leaders who had visited the Taizi
community in France this past summer spent the night at Church of the
Ascension, Montgomery, and participated in the Daniels pilgrimage
events. They listened to stories told by retired priest Francis Walter,
who was present in Hayneville the day Daniel was killed.
Over the years weve added names, so that now we celebrate not just
Jonathan but all the civil rights martyrs of Alabama, said Walter. He
noted that many local blacks were killed.
The black teenagers from that time have been very reticent to take part
in these pilgrimages, he noted. Walter, who had a stormy career as a
young, white native-Alabama priest involved in the civil rights
movement, commented, Ive been very privileged to get older and have
some validation of what I did when I was younger.
Walter said that there is a possibility that the Jonathan Daniels story
may be the subject of a play that could be performed annually in the
Lowndes County Courthouse, as a dramatic version of the novel To Kill a
Mockingbird is performed in another Alabama town.
The pilgrimage next year will be held on August 14, the day that Daniels
is remembered in Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Already, bishops from
Louisiana, West Tennessee, and North Carolina have promised to attend
and bring pilgrims with them.
--The Rev. Canon E. T. Malone Jr. is a free-lance writer living in
Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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