Jonathan Daniels Mural
Jonathan Daniels was born in Keene on March 20, 1939. Raised a Congregationalist, he joined St. James Episcopal Church while in high school. After high school he enrolled in Virginia Military Institute, graduating first in his class. An initial interest in the priesthood waned while Daniels was in college, but returned as a graduate student at Harvard University. The renewal of his faith led Daniels to enter Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA in the fall of 1963, sponsored by his home parish, St. James Episcopal Church.
On March 7, 1965, after hearing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call on “clergy of all faiths … to join me in Selma [Alabama] for a ministers` march to the state capital of Montgomery …” He went south, participated in the march, and then stayed on in the area for a couple of months to tutor children in reading, to register voters, and to help integrate a local Episcopal Church.
In August of 1965, Daniels returned to Alabama to continue his volunteer work. On Saturday, August 14, he picketed a local businesses with others in Fort Deposit, AL. They were arrested and held in the county jail in Hayneville before being released on August 20. As the day was hot, Daniels and three others–the Rev. Richard Morrisroe (a Roman Catholic priest), Joyce Bailey, and Ruby Sales–approached a local store to buy sodas. The entrance was blocked by an off-duty deputy sheriff with a shotgun, Tom Coleman, who threatened to shoot if they tried to enter. During the confrontation, Coleman aimed the gun at Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed her out of the way and was shot in the chest, dying instantly. Father Morrisroe was shot in the back as he and Joyce Bailey ran for safety.
More than 800 people attended the funeral service at St. James Church. Sympathy messages came from President Lyndon B. Johnson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., New Hampshire Governor John W. King, and senators and congressmen. Daniels was laid to rest in Monadnock View Cemetery in Keene.
Tom Coleman, who fired the fatal shot from a 12-gauge shotgun, was acquitted of manslaughter on grounds of self-defense after claiming that Daniels had a knife, though no weapon was ever found. None of Daniels` companions were permitted to testify at the trial. The all-white jury deliberated less than two hours before returning the not-guilty verdict. The Alabama attorney general, quoted by the press, declared the trial “the democratic process going down the drain of irrationality, bigotry and improper enforcement of the law.”
Today, Jonathan Myrick Daniels is listed in the Memorial Book of the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral in Great Britain, along with one other American martyr, Dr. King. His portrait hangs in a wing of that great cathedral. In July 1991, the Episcopal Church named Daniels a saint. In October 2015, a bust of Jonathan Daniel was consecrated at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
The Jonathan Daniels Center for Social Responsibility is located in the Historical Society of Cheshire County’s building at 246 Main Street, Keene, NH. Visit exhibits. Watch films and speeches related to the Civil Rights Movement. Download a walking tour app to visit sites related to Daniels’ life in Keene.
In Our Collections
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The Historical Society of Cheshire County’s Wright Reading Room has publications on the life of Jonathan Daniels.
The Jonathan Daniels Papers Collection in the Society’s archives (MG84) contains various newspaper accounts of the event and its aftermath. There are also some references to Jonathan’s life before he entered the seminary. There is a small collection of family and ancestral photographs and a transcription of his father’s World War II diary.
Speech: Sermon by Ruby Sales, 2015