A seminary student who responded to Martin Luther King’s call for participants in the Selma to Montgomery March, Daniels was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Alabama, who was later acquitted of the crime. King described the acquittal by an all-white jury as a “gross miscarriage of justice,” noting that Daniels was one of at least 26 killed in the struggle for civil rights between 1960 and 1965 (King, “The Verdict”).
Born 20 March 1939 in Keene, New Hampshire, Daniels graduated as the valedictorian of his class from the Virginia Military Institute in 1961, and was remembered by one of his friends as “a militant Christian” (Dewar, “Slain Civil Rights Aide Gave VMI Valedictory”). After a year at Harvard University, Daniels enrolled at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In March 1965 Daniels heard of King’s summons for clergy to march from Selma to Montgomery.
After hearing the speech King gave at the end of the march, Daniels wrote to his mother that King was “certainly one of the greatest men of our times” (Eagles, 42). He decided to remain in the South and began to work with the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, embracing nonviolence on religious grounds. Daniels initially helped to integrate St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Selma by persistently attending services with an interracial group.
During a demonstration in Fort Deposit on 14 August 1965, Daniels and several other civil rights workers were arrested and driven to the county jail in Hayneville, 20 miles away. Released on 20 August with another white priest and two black women, Daniels was attempting to arrange transportation home when this group of four approached a white-owned store in Hayneville, where they were confronted by Hayneville Special Deputy Sheriff Thomas L. Coleman. Coleman ordered them to leave and abruptly shot Daniels, killing him instantly.
Coleman was acquitted six weeks later by an all-white jury in what the Alabama attorney general dubbed a “callous disregard for the taking of a human life” (Nelson, “Jury Acquits”). In 1994 the Episcopalian Church added Daniels to its list of martyrs to be remembered annually.
Helen Dewar, “Slain Civil Rights Aide Gave VMI Valedictory,” Washington Post, 29 August 1965.
Eagles, Outside Agitator, 1993.
King, Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March, in A Call to Conscience, ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.
King, “The Verdict,” New York Amsterdam News, 20 November 1965.
Jack Nelson, “Jury Acquits Deputy in Rights Death,” Los Angeles Times, 1 October 1965.