Pilgrimage to honor martyrs

Published 10:34 pm Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pilgrims carry signs of Civil Rights martyrs during the 2014 Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage in Lowndes County outside the courthouse in Hayneville.

Pilgrims carry signs of Civil Rights martyrs during the 2014 Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage in Lowndes County outside the courthouse in Hayneville.

People from across the country will descend on Hayneville this weekend to honor Civil Rights martyrs, including Jonathan Daniels.

Daniels, a 26-year-old seminary student from New Hampshire is honored every August by the Episcopal Church in Alabama.

Those visitors to Lowndes County will include the newly elected bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry from North Carolina.

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When he assumes leadership of the national church in November, Curry will be the denomination’s first black presiding bishop.

Curry along with pilgrims from as far away as Alaska and the Virgin Islands are expected this weekend to honor Daniels and others who died in the struggle for equal rights.

All 16 Alabama Civil Rights martyrs will be recognized from Elmore Bolling in 1947 to Samuel Leamon Younge Jr. in 1966.

Daniels answered the call from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for students and clergy to come to Selma in March 1965 to take part in the voting rights march to Montgomery.

After returning to seminary for final exams, Daniels came to Selma a second time in July, working to register voters and tutor students. During this time, he met Catholic priest Richard F. Morrisroe through John Lewis, who had led the Bloody Sunday march with the Rev. Hosea Williams.

On Aug. 20, 1965, Daniels and Morrisroe as well as 20 other protestors had just been released from Lowndes County Jail after picketing a whites-only store in Fort Deposit.

The two walked with teenagers Ruby Sales and Joyce Bailey to nearby Varner’s Cash Store, one of the few places that would serve nonwhites, to buy cold drinks for the group.

The four were met at the store’s entrance by shotgun-wielding volunteer sheriff’s deputy Tom L. Coleman. He threatened the group and pointed his weapon at 16-year-old Sales.

Daniels pushed Ruby to the group, taking a full shotgun blast at near point-blank range to the chest and stomach. Morrisroe grabbed Bailey and ran, but he too was gunned down in the lower back. Morrisroe survived after an 11-hour emergency surgery in Montgomery; Daniels died instantly on the store’s front stoop.

Daniels and others who died fighting for civil rights will again be honored during the pilgrimage, which will begin Saturday, Aug. 15 at the Lowndes County Courthouse Square at 11 a.m.

Past years have included a short walk to the Lowndes County Jail as well as Varner’s Cash Store. Since last August, the property owner has demolished the building that once housed the store. During this year’s pilgrimage, a historic marker will be erected at the site.

The day will end with a service as well as communion in the Lowndes County Courtroom, where an all-white jury of men acquitted Coleman.

Pilgrims are expected from across the country, including Daniel’s hometown of Keene, N.H.; his alma mater, Virginia Military Institute; and Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Selma will be open for tours from 3-5 p.m. after the service in Hayneville. Curry will preach during St. Paul’s’s Sunday morning service at 10 a.m. the following day.

“Bishop Curry’s visit is a huge honor for St. Paul’s and our community. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a president bishop to visit your parish,” said St. Paul rector Jack Alvey. “The parish is buzzing with excitment and people from all over the state and even country will be with us for worship on Sunday. I think people are particularly excited about Bishop Curry because he is a dynamic preacher of the gospel.”

Several people with ties to Daniels will also participate in this year’s pilgrimage.

They include Morrisroe, who left the priesthood six years or so after the shooting. He went into law and city planning and married his wife Sylvia. They have two children, Jonathan and Siobhan, and several grandchildren.

Sales will also participate. She went on to attend Episcopal Theological School in Massachusetts (now Episcopal Divinity School) and works as a human rights advocate.

Others include the Rev. Judith Upham, a fellow seminary student who worked with Daniels in Selma as well as members of the West family, with whom Daniels lived during his time in Selma.

The pilgrimage will be webcast live at: dioala.org/tv.html.