Long Train Runnin'

It was one of those hot and sticky August days in Lowndes County, Alabama. Ruby Sales, a 17-year-old student from the Tuskegee Institute, had just been released from six days in the county jail for joining a picket line against three businesses that would not serve African Americans. It was 1965.

"We were hot. We were thirsty. Someone decided that Jonathan Daniels, Father Richard Morrisroe, Joyce Bailey, and myself should go and get the sodas for the group," said Sales in an interview with civil rights historian Vincent Harding. As they approached the door of the little corner store, Deputy Sheriff Tom Coleman met them with a shotgun. Ruby was nearest Coleman. Jonathan Daniels, a white seminary student from New Hampshire, was behind her. Coleman threatened Sales, "I'll blow your brains out." Daniels grabbed Sales, shoving her aside. "The next thing I know there was a shotgun blast and then another shotgun blast." Twenty-six-year-old Jonathan Daniels lay in the dust, dead.

Six weeks after the shooting, an all-white jury found Coleman not guilty of murder. Daniels' death prompted Martin Luther King Jr. to comment, "One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry and career for civil rights was performed by Jonathan Daniels."

"Make no bones about it, Jonathan made a choice to push me aside," says Sales in the civil rights documentary series Veterans of Hope. "It was a hard moment in my life, but I knew that somehow I was going to speak up for Jonathan because he couldn't speak up for himself." Ruby Sales continued her work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and, in 1998, she completed her master's degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts—Jonathan Daniels' alma mater.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2002
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