Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jonathan Myrick Daniels

Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a martyr for the civil rights movement in this country, is remembered today in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.  Daniels was a seminary student in 1965 when he heard a televised appeal by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for more clergy of all denominations to become involved in voter registration of African-Americans  in Southern states.  Daniels wrote that he was inspired by the words of the Magnificat, Mary's prophetic song of liberation from the Gospel of Luke, and became convinced that he was being called to engage in this work.

Daniels was working in Alabama when he and other protesters were arrested and jailed for six days.  On August 20, upon release, they were looking for transportation out of town when they were confronted by a man with a shotgun, who aimed at Ruby Sales, a sixteen year old girl.  Daniels pushed her aside and was shot in the chest himself, dying immediately. His killer was later acquitted at trial on the grounds of self-defense.

This murder of a young seminarian brought more attention to the civil rights struggle.  In 1991 Daniels was declared "a martyr and witness to the Gospel" by the Episcopal Church, to be commemorated on this day, the anniversary of his arrest (because August 20 was already marked for another saint). I have used this hymn before, several years ago, but it seems appropriate again on this day.

O pure reformers! not in vain
Your trust in humankind;
The good which bloodshed could not gain,
Your peaceful zeal shall find.

The truths you urge are borne abroad
By every wind and tide;
The voice of nature and of God
Speaks out upon your side.

The weapons which your hands have found
Are those which heav'n has wrought:
Light, truth, and love -- your battleground,
The free, broad field of thought.

Press on! and if we may not share
The glory of your fight,
We'll ask at least, in earnest prayer,
That God will bless the right.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1843; alt.
Hugh Wilson,1800; arr. Ralph E. Hudson, c.1885

A fellowship in his name has been established at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Daniels was a student.  Next fall, the Episcopal diocese of Rhode Island plans to open the Jonathan Daniels House in Providence, where Daniels also engaged in ministry before traveling south.

Ruby Sales, the girl whose life was saved that day, has continued her involvement in the civil rights struggle up to the present day.

Four Years Ago: Samuel Sebastian Wesley 

Two Years Ago: Samuel Sebastian Wesley

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