Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights


Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her

Well I heard old Neil put her down

Well, I hope Neil Young will remember

A southern man don’t need him around anyhow”

--”Sweet Home Alabama by Lynard Skynyrd (1974)

(The Wikipedia entry for “Sweet Home Alabama” is accompanied by an image of the Confederate flag. Same with the song’s YouTube video.)

“Tom Coleman walked calmly to the front of the courtroom, chewing a wad of gum. He’d been a free man since the morning after killing Jonathan on August 20 [1965]. Coleman wore a dark suit, a cold stare, and the same glum expression reporters had become familiar with But they wouldn’t hear Coleman speak. He had no plans to testify. Coleman would observe his trial while sitting at a table a few feet from the juror’s box. Inside that box sat twelve white men, all of them friends and neighbors of Tom Coleman, including the jury foreman. Like Coleman, the foreman was a highway engineer.

Coleman’s lawyers would speak for him. His nephew, attorney Robert Coleman Black, would help defend his uncle. Leading the three-man defense team was state senator Vaughan Hill Robison.

A tall and wiry politician who rarely smiled. the sandy-haired Robison had fought hard to keep Montgomery buses segregated despite a Supreme Court ruling against it. He had a talent for flustering witnesses by peppering them with rapid-fire questions, then switching the subject.

How does the defendant plead?’ the judge asked Coleman’s attorneys.

‘Not guilty, your honor.’”

Jonathan Daniels was a young white man from New Hampshire who taught Sunday school to children at his local Episcopal church. After earning an undergraduate degree, and aspiring to become a priest and teach religion at a university, Jonathan enrolled at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jonathan Daniels attended the March on Washington and was inspired to heed Martin Luther King’s call for white clergy to head south and participate in the struggle for black Americans to register to vote. After he participated in the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march, when other out-of-state marchers left Alabama to return to their normal lives, Jonathan stayed put. He’d found his calling.

BLOOD BROTHER is the moving tale of Jonathan Daniels’s too-brief life. It was a life cut short when Tom Coleman attempted to fire a twelve-gauge shotgun point-blank at a black teenage girl, and Jonathan, reacting quickly, shoved her to the ground. The shotgun blast blew an inch-wide hole through his chest. Jonathan’s murder took place right after he and others, including the girl, Ruby Sales, had suddenly, without explanation, been released from Alabama’s Lowndes County jail. In fact, they had been set up. The power structure in 1965 Lowndes County, Alabama did not want Jonathan around.

Jonathan and the others had been thrown into county jail a week earlier for protesting against businesses in Fort Deposit, Alabama that refused to serve black residents.

If you know anything about the history of Alabama, particularly in the George Wallace years, you’ll likely conclude correctly that (1) there was no shortage of white men in Alabama who wanted to see Jonathan dead; and (2) that the jury of his white male peers found Tom Coleman not guilty of killing Jonathan. In fact, “Following his acquittal, Tom Coleman defiantly stated, ‘I would shoot them both tomorrow.’” (Coleman had also shot a priest who’d been in jail with Jonathan, but the priest survived his injuries.)

From beginning to end, BLOOD BROTHER is an emotional page-turner and a well-researched story about the struggle against racial intolerance in the South. I appreciate that the authors didn’t end their story with the anger-inducing outrageousness of Jonathan’s murderer walking free. Instead, they go on to explain what happened with some of the other characters, including the young woman whose life Jonathan saved by sacrificing his own As the authors show, some good came out of this disgusting episode in American injustice.

As the result of the outcry over Tom Coleman’s mockery of a trial, a lawsuit was filed. It resulted in a Federal judge ordering that the jury rolls must henceforth include blacks and women. This was a significant Civil Rights victory, an important change away from the “Southern way of life.”

While incredibly saddening, BLOOD BROTHER is a truly inspirational tale about a real American hero.

978-1-62979-094-7 Ages 13 and up 352 pages

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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