Wednesday, August 20, 2003

To offer one's life: Jonathan Myrick Daniels

Today is the anniversary of the death of a martyr I can remember from my own youth --- a seminarian of the Episcopal church named Jon Daniels.

Jon grew up in Keene, New Hampshire, and wasn't at all serious about his Chrhistian faith, until an accident had him confined to bed for almost two months, where the long periods of pondering lured him to faith. (What is it, exactly, about conversions and bed rest, anyhow??? ) He graduated as valedictorian of his class from the Virginia Military institute. Soon after that his father died; Jon left graduate school to settle his father's estate, and also to ponder what he was going to do with his life. The death of his father had started him thinking on the final things. By the time the estate was settled, Jon had decided to pursue the ministry, and he enrolled at Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge MA.

In the Spring of 1965, people in Alabama had been murdered for attempting to register to vote, and Rev. Martin Luther King invited college students from all over the country to join him in Selma to protest the deaths. A busful of ETS seminarians went for the march. Jon, and another seminary student named Judy. missed the return bus, and saw it as a sign. Why should they come only for two days of marching, then go away and leave the people of Alabama to srtuggle on alone? Why not continue to be with them? Jon and Judy got permission to stay in Alabama for the rest of the term and through the summer, returning only to take their end-of-term exams. Jon settled in Ft. Deposit AL, tutoring the children and helping their parents register to vote, and incidentally integrating the local Episcopalian parish.

Jon wrote of this time:

I lost fear in the black belt [kmk notes: this is not a racial reference but a geographic one; the "black belt of Alabama" has black loamy soil, in contrast to the red clay soils of the rest of the state] when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord's death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one's motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it. As Judy and I said the daily offices day by day, we became more and more aware of the living reality of the invisible "communion of saints" --- of the beloved comunity in Cambridge who were saying the offices too, of the ones gathered around a near-distant throne in heaven --- who blend with theirs our faltering songs of prayer and praise. With them, with black men and white men, with all of life, in Him Whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout, whose Name is Itself the Song Which fulfils and "ends" all songs, we are indelibly, unspeakably ONE.

Some local teenagers from Ft. Deposit decided to go downtown to picket some businesses that were behaving particularly badly toward their non-White customers; Jon accompanied them. That day, August 14, between twenty and thirty of them, including Jon, were arrested "for their own protection" and taken about 30 miles away to the county jail in Hayneville, where they were for nearly a week; they had all decided that none of them would post bail until all of them could. On the evening of August 20th, suddenly and without explanation, also without transportation back to Ft. Deposit, they were all released.

Some of the group went scouting to find pay phones, to call home and to roust up some transport. Four of them went to a nearby corner store to buy cold sodas: Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest from Chicago; Ruby Sales, a 17-year-old student from Tuskeegee Institute; another local teenager some sources identify as "Joyce"; and Jon. They were met at the door by a sherriff's deputy with a shotgun aimed at Ruby Sales. Jon leapt forward and shoved Ruby out of the line of fire just as the first shot was fired; he died immediately. A second shot critically wounded Father Morrisroe, leaving him permanently disabled.

In the 1990's. the Anglican Communion added the commemoration of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, seminarian to the Calendar of Lesser Feasts. His assigned gospel Reading is the Magnificat: The Lord has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.

The confessor Father Morrisroe, who sheltered "Joyce" when Jon protected Ruby, a few years after his recovery, sought and received permission to live in the lay state, and now serves as a public interest attorney in the city of Chicago.

Ruby Sales ---here's a recent picture of her----

continued working for justice in Alabama, joining the SNCC in its work; eventually she finished college at Tuskeegee Institute, and received a Masters degree from ETS, Jon's seminary. She now runs a community outreach ministry named after Jonathan Daniels, the young man who gave his life to save hers.

The collect for Jonathan Myrick Daniels, from the Anglican Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts:

O God of justice and compassion, who dost put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and dost lift up the poor and afflicted: We give thee thanks for thy faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever.

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