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Aug 14, 2015 | Mary Frances Schjonberg

Remembering Jonathan Daniels 50 Years After His Martyrdom

 

 

[Episcopal News Service] In Fort Deposit, Alabama, the day of Aug. 14, 1965, began hot and humid, and it only got more oppressive as it went on.

 

It was the beginning of the last six days of Jonathan Daniels’ life, most of which would be spent in a squalid county jail and which would end with the 26-year-old dying from a shotgun blast as he saved the life of another. He would become the 26th civil rights worker to be murdered.

 

Early that Saturday morning, 30 people — most of them young, most of them African-American and most of them from the area — gathered at the AME church just outside of town to finalize their plan to protest outside of businesses in Fort Deposit. They wanted to call attention to discriminatory hiring practices, unequal treatment of customers and price gouging.

 

Many had been involved in an unsuccessful boycott earlier in the year of their segregated black high school after its superintendent refused to consider a list of demands aimed at improving their education. And the county school board blocked their attempt to integrate the all-white high school in Hayneville about 18 miles away. They wanted to find a niche in the civil right movement in Lowndes County, often called “Bloody Lowndes” for the way violence enforced segregation.

 

Just eight days earlier, President Lyndon Johnson had signed the historic Voting Rights Act. Most of the young organizers who gathered on Aug. 14 were too young to vote, but they wanted to be part of the movement so they proposed the protest against businesses in Fort Deposit. They soon learned that two FBI agents were in town to observe the first voter registration efforts in the county. The agents, one author says, told them police were prepared to arrest the protestors as soon as they entered the street. At the same time a crowd of white men armed with clubs, broken bottles and guns was assembling to confront them.

 

The protest lasted a few minutes until police arrested everyone, including Jonathan Daniels, a white seminarian from what then was known as Episcopal Theological School, now Episcopal Divinity School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were loaded onto a flatbed truck the county normally used for hauling trash and taken to the jail in Hayneville, the county seat of Lowndes County.

 

Read more at Episcopal News Service.

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