Pilgrimage: a journey of spiritual significance.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Ruby Sales speak in Atlanta. Ruby, an African American, spoke about her experience at the age of 17 of being saved by Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminary student. They and others had been arrested 6 days earlier in Ft. Deposit, Alabama for picketing a “whites only” store. The 1964 Civil Rights Act had outlawed this type of segregation. When released from the jail in Hayneville, Alabama on August 20, 1965 they went to a nearby store to buy sodas. They were approached by a “special deputy,” Tom Coleman, who was wielding a shotgun. Coleman aimed for Ruby, but Jonathan pulled her out of the way and was killed instantly. Father Richard Morrisroe, a priest from Chicago, was also shot and seriously wounded.
Despite being severely traumatized, and also receiving death threats, Ruby testified against Coleman in the trial. An all white jury acquitted Coleman. Of this verdict, the Attorney General of Alabama, Richmond Flowers, Sr., said that the verdict epitomized “the democratic process going down the drain of irrationality, bigotry and improper law enforcement.”
When Martin Luther King, Jr. heard of Jonathan’s murder he said, “…one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels.” Jonathan was designated a martyr by the Episcopal Church. We remember his selfless acts of sacrifice on August 14, the day he was arrested and jailed. In the letters and papers Jonathan left, he wrote: “…The faith with which I went to Selma has not changed: it has grown…I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection…with them, the black men and white men, with all life in him whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout… We are indelibly and unspeakably one.”
On Sunday, August 16 Christ Church Cathedral members and friends will make a pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemani where 3 bronze statues (created by sculptor Walker Hancock), commemorating Jonathan’s death are located. Please join us on this, the 50th anniversary of Jonathan’s death, as we recall his sacrifice. We will gather at 11:30 a.m. in the Great Hall of Christ Church Cathedral for lunch (bring your own lunch), and then leave for Gethsemani at noon.
Postscript: Ruby Sales eventually went to Episcopal Divinity School, Jonathan’s seminary. Although she decided to not become formally ordained, Ruby continues to work for racial equality, justice and peace as founder and director of The Spirithouse Project, Atlanta, Georgia.
Peace be with you,
The Reverend Brent Owens