Local church marches for a martyr

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 29, 2002

Ask almost any child whose been to Sunday School on a regular basis what a martyr is, and they might tell you about Stephen or Peter, or any of the great saints who died in defense of their faith. Ask a historian, and he might tell you of Nathan Hale or Joan of Arc, who also died for causes in which they believed. These martyrs have faces blurred with time and the distance of history.

There are closer martyrs, victims of the terrible struggles this country saw during the battle for Civil Rights. One of those, who died not 60 miles away in Hayneville, is recognized by a yearly pilgrimage made by members of the Episcopal Church and others who strive to keep his sacrifice fresh and relevant.

Father Bob Randall of St. Mary's Episcopal Church here in Andalusia took several members of the congregation on the pilgrimage to Hayneville on Aug. 17, where they leaner about – and honored - the life and death of Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

Born in Keene, N.H., Daniels was valedictorian of his class at the Virginia Military Academy, a Harvard student, and then a seminary student at the Episcopal Theological School. He felt drawn to the conflicts in Alabama, and after "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, gave into the call and traveled to Alabama.

He was arrested at a demonstration in Fort Deposit along with other protesters to

the jail in Hayneville. They were released with instructions to return for their court appearance.

Hot, tired and thirsty, the group decided drinks were needed and Daniels, a Catholic priest named Richard Morrisroe, and two young black women named Ruby Sales and Joyce Bailey walked up to the nearest store to buy soda.

A man named Tom Coleman then drew a 12-gauge shotgun.

Daniels pushed Sales away, out of the line of fire, and took the blast in his chest. Morrisroe, fleeing, was shot in the back and side. Morrisroe and the girls survived.

Daniels did not.

Coleman was found "not guilty."

Now, almost 40 years after the young man's death, his legacy lives on. Ruby Sales became an Episcopal priest herself, and was the featured speaker at least year's pilgrimage. A monument to Daniels stands in the courthouse square of Haynesville, and the Episcopal Church formally recognized him as a martyr and includes him on its Calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

"We showed a film about his life the night before" said Father Randall. "We wanted everybody to understand the history of it."

He was joined by Chris Randall, Gary Weaver, Terry Kyzar, Lindsey Weaver, Fletcher Powell, Courtney Arnett, and Pat Aughtmann. When they got there, they met Joyce Bailey, the second girl involved in the fateful trip to the Cash Store. Lindsey and Courtney were chosen to lead the procession to the jail.

"They were very moved by the experience," said Father Randall of the two girls. "Especially getting to meet the woman who was right there."

"The group of about 200 people from all over Alabama join together to hear the accounts of what happened in those days, and pray that we, too, will have the courage to follow Jesus Christ's' call," said Randall. "The group heard a call to promote unity of all races and to work for justice for the poor and oppressed."