This August, the newly renovated Jonathan M. Daniels ’61 Memorial Courtyard reopened for use by the VMI community after an almost six-month refurbishing project.
The work, which was part of the post infrastructure improvement project, included regrading the courtyard area to improve drainage and reinstalling the existing pavers. Now, cadets, faculty and staff can once again use the courtyard, which is located between Old Barracks and Shell Hall, as a place for study or quiet reflection.
Daniels, valedictorian of the Class of 1961, began studies to become an Episcopal priest after graduation from VMI and soon became involved in the Civil Rights movement. He was killed Aug. 20, 1965 – 55 years ago – when he gave his life to save a young Black girl, Ruby Sales, in Hayneville, Alabama.
On that day, Daniels, Sales and two others were attempting to enter a store to buy sodas when a white man serving as a part-time sheriff’s deputy, Thomas Coleman, brandished a shotgun and told them to stay off the property. The group ignored his command, and just before a shotgun blast rang out, Daniels threw himself in front of Sales. He was killed instantly.
Sales, who was 17 at the time, went on to a life of civil rights activism and has visited VMI in the past. Richard Morrisroe, a former Catholic priest who was wounded in the same shooting incident which killed Daniels, has attended VMI’s presentations of the Jonathan M. Daniels ‘61 Humanitarian Award. This award was instituted by the VMI Board of Visitors in 1997 to honor individuals who have made great personal sacrifices to protect or improve the lives of others, and was most recently presented to Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children, in March 2019.
Shortly after Daniels’ death, Coleman was acquitted of a charge of manslaughter by an all-white jury. Thanks in large part to Coleman’s acquittal, the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity partnered with the National Council of Churches and other groups to establish Operation Southern Justice, which had the goal of integrating Southern juries.
For more than two decades, the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast have co-sponsored a pilgrimage to the small town of Hayneville each August to commemorate the life of Daniels, who is recognized as a martyr by the Episcopal Church. This year’s event, which took place Aug. 15, was held online rather than in Hayneville due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing