Reflection on Jonathan Myrick Daniels Pilgrimage
by Michelle Simmons
Michelle is a Sewanee seminarian from the Diocese of Colorado doing her Field Education at St. Timothy, Signal Mountain
I spent the last two days on an amazing pilgrimage in honor of Jonathan Myrick Daniels and the martyrs of Alabama.
Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian (like me) studying for the priesthood in 1965 when he responded to a call by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for volunteers to help assist with integrating the South, registering black people to vote, and engaging in non-violent protest of the racist policies of the time.
During one of these protests, Daniels and a group of friends were arrested and transported to Hayneville, AL, where they were imprisoned for six days in deplorable conditions. When they were released, Jonathan, his friend Richard Morrisoe, a Catholic priest, and two teenaged African American girls who were co-workers with them walked around the block to buy sodas from a grocery store.
At the store, they were confronted by a man with a shotgun who aimed it at Ruby Sales, who was seventeen at the time. Jonathan Daniels pushed her out of the way and was caught nearly point-blank by the full force of the gunshot. He died instantly.
Father Morrisoe grabbed the other young woman by the arm and fled with her. He was shot in the back as they ran and eventually recovered (other than a limp) after a lengthy hospital stay and surgeries.
The man who shot them was charged with manslaughter and acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury in 30 minutes.
Today, Jonathan Myrick Daniels is remembered as a martyr in the Episcopal Church with a feast day of August 14.
An annual pilgrimage visits Hayneville and processes from the jail to the location of the shooting and ultimately to the courthouse itself, where the current sitting judge welcomes the pilgrims in for a memorial Eucharist celebrated on the very bench (turned altar for the day) where Daniels’ killer was acquitted.
St. Timothy’s Signal Mountain attended this year and added stops in Montgomery and Selma to the time in Hayneville. It was one of the most powerful events I’ve ever attended – sad and inspirational and hopeful. So much progress has been made in communities like Selma and Hayneville since the dark days of the 60s, but we have so much work yet to do. We must never be complicit in hateful speech that feeds on divisiveness and fear of the “other.” Such speech and the culture it permits have tragically violent consequences. “Blessed Jonathan, pray for us.”