After a rather unfulfilling year at Harvard and working at home back in Keene for another year, Daniels was accepted at Episcopal Theological School (ETS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was fairly well liked there, even though he was not that well known. On the weekends he served in a church in nearby Connecticut and became interested in social justice. Early 1965 saw Daniels combining that interest with the civil rights movement, and when Martin Luther King Jr. called for clergy to join a march from Selma to Montgomery, Daniels answered. After the famous march, Daniels remained in the area, other than a quick trip back to ETS to take his exams. Daniels helped at a local health clinic in Selma as he tried to integrate an Episcopal church. He faced much resistance from church members, even though the national body had condemned segregation. In the middle of 1965, Daniels decided to help protestors in next door Lowndes County, probably the most segregated county in Alabama. It was known as “Bloody Lowndes” for the level of violence used to enforce race relations. At the beginning of 1965, there were no registered African American voters, even though African Americans comprised 80 percent of the population. Daniels viewed Lowndes as a challenge and went to work with local blacks, including Ruby Sales and Stokley Carmichael. Daniels was involved with civil rights workers, including ferrying them back and forth to Lowndes, for much of July and early August 1965. On August 14, Daniels participated in a civil rights protest against mistreatment in the local stores in Fort Deposit and was arrested.
In the middle of 1965, Daniels decided to help protestors in Lowndes County, probably the most segregated county in Alabama. It was known as “Bloody Lowndes” for the level of violence used to enforce race relations.
When Daniels entered, Coleman told them the store was closed and “to get off this property, or I’ll blow your goddamn heads off, you sons of bitches.” Daniels pushed Ruby Sales, whom he was walking with, out of the way, and Coleman shot Daniels, killing him. When Morrisroe tried to run with the other woman, he was shot, too, but survived.
Coleman was arrested, but not until five hours later. While the attorney general wanted an indictment for murder, the grand jury only returned an indictment for manslaughter. During the trial, prosecutors tried to prove the murder while the defense tried the victim, suggesting an interracial relationship between him and the black woman he had been walking with. The defense also claimed Daniels had been armed. The jury deliberated for fewer than two hours before acquitting Coleman of all charges. They might not have even stayed out that long, but by sticking around over an hour, they managed to get a free meal and a motel stay out of the state, as deliberations started late in the day.
Daniels was named in 1981 as a modern day Martyr in the Anglican Church in England, and in 1991 had his name added as a martyr to the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Lesser Fasts and Feasts.
Coleman’s life continued largely unchanged. He retired from his job with the state highway department about a dozen years after the trial and lived in Hayneville until his death in 1997. Daniels, who was buried in New Hampshire, was remembered by his friends, but it took some time before official remembrances began. He was named in 1981 as a modern day Martyr in the Anglican Church in England, and in 1991 had his name added as a martyr to the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Lesser Fasts and Feasts. Virginia Military Institute created an award to honor him and named an archway at the school after him—to emphasize the uniqueness of the award, only four of the school’s archways are named. In the 1990s, a monument was established under that tree on the Hayneville courthouse square. Attention is drawn to it periodically, as yearly the Episcopal Church has a “pilgrimage” where people come to Hayneville and walk from the jail to the store.
A complete version of this article was originally published in Alabama Heritage Issue #111, Winter 2014.
Scott A. Merriman, lecturer of history at Troy University, researches American legal and constitutional history, centering on civil rights and the First Amendment.