The murder in cold blood and in broad daylight of a religious leader is horrifying enough. Especially in America, we associate our preachers with words not swords and expect them to be immune from violence. But merely a half-century ago, someone could brazenly kill an Episcopalian seminarian and shoot a Catholic priest without being punished. It happened, in August 1965, in racist Alabama.
In a just world, Jonathan Daniels, born in 1939, would be now completing a long, satisfying career as an Episcopal elder. Instead, he died a 26-year-old civil-rights martyr who sacrificed his life protecting a young Black teenager.
Daniels was studying in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Episcopal Theological School—today’s Episcopal Divinity School. In March 1965, Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for moral leadership from clerics brought Daniels to Selma, Alabama. Unlike most, he stayed, realizing, “I could not stand by in benevolent dispassion any longer without compromising everything I know and love and value. The imperative was too clear, the stakes too high, my own identity was called too nakedly into question…. I had been blinded by what I saw here (and elsewhere), and the road to Damascus led, for me, back here.”