Walking with the Saints

Jonathan Myrick Daniels

 Just imagine making the split-second choice to jump in front of a shotgun in order to save the life of another. Imagine doing such a brave thing at the tender age of 26. This is what Jonathan Myrick Daniels did when he jumped in front of the shotgun of a racist murderer in order to protect the life of a seventeen-year-old African American girl named Ruby Sales.  

It was August in Alabama when Jonathan, an Episcopal seminarian, made this choice to lay down his life for another. He and other protestors had just spent six hot days in jail without air conditioning, showers and even toilets. But it was in these conditions that Jonathan Daniels sang hymns and said prayers to boost the morale of his friends and to combat the bleakness of the conditions.

He had followed the urgings of the Reverend Martin King Jr. for clergy to come to Selma to support the civil rights movement. “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.”

Jonathan took the semester off to return to the struggle for equality for all. Into that world must come saints, he said. And Selma “needs the life and witness of militant saints.”

The man who murdered Jonathan was tried by an all-white jury and found not guilty. He lived out his life in freedom and died at the age of 86.

Jonathan saw and experienced the sin of racism and could not turn away. He chose to align himself with the least just as Jesus asks us to. He lived with courage and deep faith.

The young woman he saved, Ruby Sales, went on to attend the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge where Jonathan had been a student. She has spent her life in activism dedicated to his memory.