Weber presents ‘The Martyr of Lowndes County’
Published 5:01 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Marianne Weber has a pretty good story to tell.
Weber presented her lecture, “Jonathan Daniels, Episcopal Martyr of Lowndes County” as a part of LBWCC’s Greenville Campus Lecture Series on Tuesday at the Wendell Mitchell Conference Center.
Weber, who has given around 15 lectures on Daniels’ life, said it was the call from the late and great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Bloody Sunday, that helped bolster Daniels’ reputation as a minister who stood up for Civil Rights.
Weber talked about Daniels as if he were her own.
“Jonathan was a seminarian in Boston at the Episcopal Theological Seminary,” Weber said. “He answered the call and came to Selma and participated in the march they were allowed to complete.”
The march started on March 21 and took four days for activists to get to Montgomery.
Afterward, Weber said Daniels stayed in Selma to help with voter registration in the black belt community.
“He lived in a housing project in Selma with the West family to help voter registration, and help young people get enrolled in college,” she said.
Additionally, Daniels would help make sure people get aid due them, Weber said.
In Lowndes County, there was still great resistance in the acceptance of blacks in restaurants, hotels and stores, Weber said.
Daniels and some of the other organizers picketed in small towns.
In August 1965, the group was picketing in Ft. Deposit and after a minor skirmish, Daniels and 20 others were arrested and taken to the Lowndes County Jail, where they were held for six nights, Weber said.
Weber said the group was trying to get the case heard in federal court.
“They were suddenly turned loose and went down to a grocery store to get something cold to drink and figure out what to do,” she said.
With Daniels were two young black women. At the store, former Lowndes County deputy Tom Coleman was present and told the lady at the store to hang the closed sign up, Weber said.
“Coleman told them to leave, and Daniels said, ‘are you threatening us?,’” she said. “At that time, Coleman put the shot up, and shot Daniels as Ruby (Sales, one of the black women) was being pushed out of the way.
“It was that act that elevated him to a status of a Christian martyr,” she said. “This story has always been in my heart and mind. I just felt compelled to tell it to anybody who would listen. It’s a beautiful Alabama story.”
Weber went on to say that the trial aftermath after the shooting brought national attention to Hayneville.
“Coleman was found not guilty and lived to be in 80s,” she said.
The jury that acquitted Coleman consisted of white males. In those days, women weren’t allowed to serve on juries, according to Weber.
President Lyndon B. Johnson made it possible for women to serve on juries.
“We women have come a long way,” Weber quipped.
Weber first heard about Daniels’ story in 1965 while living in Monroeville.
That was a pretty important time in the life of the small town as Monroeville native Harper Lee just penned “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which touches on themes such as racial injustice and the destruction of innocence.
“I was expecting a child in 1965 when Jonathan was killed in 1965,” Weber said. “I was getting information from him through the (Episcopal) church.”
It wasn’t until 1991 when Daniels was named a martyr in the church.
“I just had an affinity with Mr. Daniels,” she said. “The story stayed in my head all these years. When the Episcopal Church elevated to him to martyrdom, I just felt like his story needed to be told.”
Weber is a Monroeville native who lives in Prattville. She is currently in Lexington, Va., doing a play on Daniels at the Virginia Military Institute, where Daniels graduated in 1961. The school is celebrating 50 years of Daniels.