Hope, Action, Change: 50 Years of Memories
2015 MLK Celebration Focus Session
Valparaiso University,
Richard Morrisroe
January 19, 2015

[See Murder of Jonathan Daniels background.]

We come here today to mark the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. We meet together in a place of learning, founded as a site of faith. Many of us prayed this morning in the Chapel of the Resurrection. I have prayed here and celebrated a number of times during my 42 years as a Chicago emigrant, one who has chosen to live and work in East Chicago and the world of Northwest Indiana.

Valparaiso Univ., Paradise Valley, has drawn me here on a number of occasions:

1. During June-July 1978, I successfully prepared for the Indiana State Bar examination under the direction of your Law School faculty. A number of continuing legal education programs, one this past Friday, allow me to keep my license.

2. A few years later my East Chicago Block Junior High daughter added her Suzuki violin talents in the Resurrection Chapel. Hopefully her sons will repeat the event.

3. Your president, Mark Heckler, hosts regional meetings on civic issues such as the environment, housing, and education. The brand name is the One Region program. The Northwest Indiana Times and my most recent Calumet College of St. Joseph presidents Dennis Rittenmeyer and Dan Lowery keep this public-private sector effort on target.

After Selma and the Lowndes County shooting which kept me learning to walk for six months at Oak Park Hospital, I was assigned to Holy Name Cathedral, just down the hall from the room where new Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich has chosen to live. The next couple years I began to meet Valpo U. students living on Chestnut near State Street and working on Chicago's Near North Side. Theirs was a structured overture to a world which remains in Professor Zorbaugh's 85-year old study, Gold Coast and Slum.

My own entry to ethnic diversity came less from where people lived than where they worked. My father and Jack Cawley were 1925-era immigrants from Ireland to Chicago. As many of their peers, they lived in a North Side boarding house. Sara Galloghly fed and housed construction workers and food warehouse workers. The men formed a network whose lives remained intertwined through baptisms and weddings, sickness and wakes.

The summer of 1960 was a special transition for me. I had spent the previous seven summers in a German and Scandinavian cemetery cutting grass over the graves of good Lutherans. While a good experience at $1.35 an hour, a dry spell during 1960 forced the foreman Gus Heinrich to tell me he could not use me. My dad called Mr. Cawley and within a few days I had morphed into a laborer for iron workers.

The Henry Horner Low Rent was a series of federally funded seven and fourteen story high rise apartments, to be torn down in the 1990's as uninhabitable to make way for the United Center, gentrification, and the 1996 Democratic National Convention. We were building the Henry Horner Low Rent Housing Project on the Near West side, along the Lake Street "L" tracks. The same housing project was torn down to make way for the United Center and the 1996 National Democratic Convention. These projects were also the subject of Alex Kotlowitz' award winning book, There Are No Children Here.

I started at $3.25 per hour, one white with three blacks. President Eisenhower's executive order on affirmative action meant three all-white carpenter teams and one all-black. Those three construction summers radically changed my life. The construction workplace drew me out of my all-white world. My internship was not a pastoral step in neighborhood ministry as many of my seminary peers were experiencing. A more poignant example was Eddie Cameron, born in Mississippi, who could not become a union ironworker. He could train newly arrived Irish immigrants how to set steel, to prepare them to buy a union book in Mississippi and then transfer the book into Chicago Union Local 1. I finished my seminary summers enjoying dinner with my white superintendent, Phil Shoevlin, and Eddie Cameron in Lawndale.

How good it was by 1968, after significant U.S. Labor and Justice Department pressure to meet Eddie constructing the Daley Center in Chicago's Loop, by then an iron worker foreman! The 1960 job, followed by two more construction summers work, inspired me to march to a different drummer, to choose ministry in a Black Catholic city parish, to march with Dr. King in Chicago and Selma, to go to jail with the people of Lowndes County, and to suffer a lengthy brush with death.

The following spring, I asked Cardinal Albert Meyer, Bible scholar and sensitive pastor, to work in a Negro parish. I had been working nine months at St. Columbanus, on 71st St, a block from South Park, now renamed for Dr. King. The Sunday night following the film Judgment at Nuremberg, the 10 o'clock news reported the //// Pettus Bridge massacre highlight. John Lewis, one of those beaten, now thirty year Congressman from Atlanta, had spoken to a St. Columbanus youth group. In response to Dr. King's call for support, many church, union and other civic leaders flew to Montgomery, then drove to Selma. My pastor agreed to the Chicago Catholic Interracial Council's request that I join a clergy and lay delegation.

I stayed nine days in Selma. I march a few blocks to the Dallas County courthouse, where voter registration applicants were being turned away. Fr. Philip Berrigan stood out because St. Columbanus parishioner Marie Baker had found his writing on race so insightful. I met Chicagoans who I had not known but who became friends and coworkers to achieve a more just society.

A few years ago Sisters at Selma told of the events through the eyes of two groups of nuns. The first, from Rochester, New York, had been working in health care and education. The second, from St. Louis included two Black Catholic sisters, also in health care and education ministries. Their religious outfits made them special witnesses to the events in Selma.

That film and the movie Selma remind me of the stages required to move from Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection, the oral narratives which followed, and then the written pieces which come to us as the four Gospels. As these sacred writings were the work of three generations, so too is the story of Selma. Last Thursday an Italian writer asked me to send her some reflections on the movie. I wrote:

Selma, seen tonight, brought a flood of memories. The two hour film focused on a single month, March 1965. The story was mostly located on a fifty mile stretch of highway, Route 80, from Selma east to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

My focus was on three men and a valiant woman. The men — Dr. Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, and John Lewis — are known for their ties to Atlanta, to church and state. The woman, Diane Nash, also a Chicagoan as I am, went to college in Nashville and, with Lewis, was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A number of others were familiar to me but made less impact on my life.

I walked with Dr. King in Chicago and Selma. Andrew Young represented Dr. King at the February 1966 Catholic Interracial Council dinner which awarded me its John F. Kennedy Award, two days after he attended the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity which honored Jonathan Daniels, killed in Lowndes County some five months later. Lewis had introduced me to Jon in Birmingham, believing "that we had much in common." Mentioned in the film for refusing to register a single voter, Lowndes County is where Jon and I were shot in August 1965 by a deputy sheriff. Tom Coleman mistakenly believed that were he to kill white clergy, "outside agitators," the Blacks of Lowndes would return to their submissive ways. Diane Nash and I have appeared on a number of panels. Her mild reflective manner masks that she has been a woman of steel since the movement began.

One important point occurred to me. The movie omitted the January 1963 National Conference on Religion and Race. Held in Chicago, Cardinal Albert Meyer co-chaired the event. Meyer, who contributed much to Vatican II, ordained me in April 1964. The conference made a commitment to support Dr. King not just with words but with deeds. After the Bloody Sunday bridge slaughter, Dr. King called in that commitment. I was one of thousands who were part of a joint response of Protestants and Catholics, Orthodox and Jews.

As Dr. King looked to President Johnson for an institutional, legislative response, namely the Voting Rights Act of August 1965, so too was he fortunate to have had the institutional commitment of religious leaders. Thank God for the commitment made in January 1963 and its impact two short years later.

I left Selma before the fifty mile march began. I did not meet Jon Daniels then. We were each part of different teams, mine of Catholic Interracial Council groups, he of Episcopal Society of Cultural and Racial Unity teams from Boston to California. Only later would I get to know some of them well, as during this past 49th summer with its Lowndes County Pilgrimage for Alabama martyrs.

I met Jonathan Myrick Daniels in Birmingham, site of Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference meeting. The meeting was held at the same 16th Street Baptist Church where four girls had been bombed into heaven in September 1963. After four days of meetings, John Lewis and Stokely Carmichael introduced me to Jonathan, believing we had "something in common, some things to share."

Today with you I face a similar question. Was Jonathan Daniels's death in Hayneville, Alabama, from a sheriff's 12-gauge shotgun worth it? Was my near death worth it, as our country seems so much at odds, so unable to find any common ground, about immigration, unemployment insurance, food stamps, voter identification? I believe the answer to be "yes." But to explain my belief I have to tell a series of stories, to try to weave them together, and to invite you to make a leap of faith with me. August 20, 1965, a sultry hot Friday afternoon in Hayneville, Alabama was the life changing event which has made me eligible to be with you this afternoon. My eligibility began that August when my neighbor, funeral director Sammy Rayner invited me to join him, his two junior high sons, and four Chicago State College students to drive in a large black Cadillac to attend the tenth Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Birmingham. SCLC was the organization which Dr. King and a number of southern ministers began after the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Hayneville is the rural seat of Lowndes County, situated between Montgomery, the state Capital, and Selma, some fifty miles to the west. Alabama Route 80 was the state highway taken in the famed Selma to Montgomery March. Today Highway 80 in Lowndes County houses the National Park Service Civil Rights Museum. It memorializes the March 1965 pilgrimage. However, the museum also tells the stories of lesser known civil rights witnesses and martyrs: Walter Reeb, Boston Unitarian minister, beaten to death two days after the Pettus Bridge incident; Viola Liuzzo, Detroit housewife, shot on Highway 80 for transporting Black marchers from Montgomery back to Selma; Jimmie Lee Jackson, young Marion deacon shot who would die because denied adequate medical treatment at the same Montgomery Baptist Hospital where I received eleven hours of life-saving surgery; and Jonathan Daniels.

This afternoon we are tracing two story lines, the first that of the civil rights movement, of Doctor King, of the march from Selma to Montgomery, the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The second, more personal story track, is of two young white men, Jonathan Daniels and me, Jon from small city Keene, New Hampshire, myself from Chicago. Jon was the son of general practitioner who gave his life for his patients and a teacher who struggled over the loss of her son.

How did I get to Hayneville? The simple answer is that Jonathan Daniels gave me a ride from Birmingham to Selma on Thursday night, after Stokely Carmichael and John Lewis introduced us. The next day, after putting me up with Alice West and her family, he drove Ruby Sales, Gloria Larry and me to Lowndes County. Jon was a seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, a couple of city blocks down Brattle Street from Harvard University.

Jon had spent the six months from March to August in Selma. His divinity school authorized his work and required a number of papers to tell the story of Selma and his work there. As a representative of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity (ESCRU), Jon and Judy Upham, another seminary student, provided transportation, occasional R & R, some money and institutional ties to the larger Episcopal Civil Rights commitment. Jon helped facilitate movement activities for Ruby Sales, whose life he later saved; just so I had tried in Chicago to help Fannie Rushing and the Chicago Friends of SNCC the months before returning to Selma and Lowndes County.

The longer answer began the summer of 1960, when I was still a seminary student preparing to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago. That fall I started four years of theological studies at the same time the Second Vatican Council was opening up its enthusiastic view of the Church in the Modern World. The mainline priest training was twelve years comprised of commuter high school, at the time five years at Quigley, across from Loyola University near Michigan and Chicago Avenues, followed by seven years at Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, in Mundelein, Illinois, a picturesque scene of trees, lakes, ball fields and even a golf course.

During those final four years, I spent a great deal of time studying the theology of work. Biblical and historical precedents on the importance of manual labor became important themes. These themes helped me during my ministry at St. Columbanus Church. Located in the Park Manor-Chatham neighborhood from 67th Street to 75th Street, from the Dan Ryan Expressway on the west to Cottage Grove on the east, it was a middle class world of factory and office workers, teachers and social workers, police and fire, courts and food service with a sprinkling of medical and legal professionals.

My desire grew to understand the rural south roots of my church's parishioners, of my adopted people, just as I knew in my genes the importance of my own rural Irish roots. My August pilgrimage to Birmingham, Selma and Lowndes County sought to fulfill that desire.

Those nine days with Jonathan turned my life on its head. Yet they provided a driving memory, a beauty and strength which I have to opportunity to share with you this afternoon. I, the son of Irish immigrants who came to Chicago almost ninety years ago, was an outsider, an outsider to the Chicago culture of my youth, an outsider to the Black community which became so much a part of my life, one who on the rebound from a denial to return to my Black Catholic parish learned Spanish, met Sylvia, sought an honorable discharge from the priestly ministry of which I celebrated fifty years this May, moved into city planning and a became a Northwestern University Law School graduate.

For twenty-five years after Hayneville my focus was on the secular, the civil aspect of what happened. The past 25 years I have focused more on the sacred, the religious aspects of what occurred. During November 1990 we celebrated Jon's life and death in Keene and Cambridge, a couple blocks from Harvard at the Episcopal Divinity School. Jon's sister Emily, who died in November, encouraged me to think and write. A Jonathan Daniels fellowship from EDS helped me take classes at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union.

The experience shifted the focus of my recollection from long held anger to a mellower, more forgiving mood. I no longer await the eschatological hereafter to square accounts among Tom Coleman, the Hayneville deputy sheriff, Jonathan and myself.

I met Gloria Larry House in Selma, the morning after meeting Jon in Birmingham. Raised an army brat, Gloria was sitting in the back seat of Jon's well-worn, movement Volkswagon, editing her MA thesis. A University of California at Berkeley student, she was working on the French literary antecedents of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. How deeper and different was Gloria from the surface view of those who hated her presence in their white world. However, after Hayneville her life too would never be the same. She watched what was taking place in the South. She later said that she "had to go South. I didn't want to be an observer and simply read about the struggle."

Gloria had left Berkeley to join student workers in Selma. She continued her studies at Michigan State in community education. She has worked in Detroit since she completed her years in Lowndes County where she continued her commitment to basic education in the Black community and worked from 1965-67 as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Field Secretary in Lowndes.

In August 2014, Gloria gave the homily during the Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage liturgy. She saw our witness differently than the usual narrative of Jonathan's efforts to push Ruby Sales to the side and mine to keep Joyce Bailey out of the line of fire. She spoke of an interview which Tom Coleman gave after he was found "not guilty" of manslaughter, Coleman said he "felt no remorse and that given similar circumstances, he would respond in exactly the same way." In support of Coleman's crime, the community maintained its silence, the witnesses contrived a set of lies, and the jury exonerated him.

"And a fact that we mustn't let fall through the cracks in the telling of Jonathan's story is that it was not only Jonathan whom Coleman intended to kill, but also Father Morrisroe. This was so obviously the case, as we were all — all of us SNCC workers — within easy range there on that Hayneville road, and Coleman was a skilled gunman. 'I just shot two preachers,' he is reputed to have said as he turned himself in ... He meant two white preachers. Though I am certain that Jonathan, given his righteous, unselfish spirit, wished to protect Ruby Sales, who was next to him entering the store, I believe Coleman intended there to be two deaths only — of the white members of our little group — to send an intimidating message to other Whites who might be called by the spirit of justice to join the side of the oppressed, as Jonathan and Father Morrisroe had done."

Ironically John Hulett, the first Black elected sheriff of Lowndes County and later the County Judge , told me how Tom Coleman time and again offered his services as a public safety volunteer. Mr. Coleman lived to be 87 and died thirty years after Jonathan. Incidentally, my daughter Sioban, with us this afternoon, served as a volunteer during winter term, January 1997, just before Mr. Coleman went to meet his Maker. Her service was with a couple Catholic sisters who served adults during the day and students after school.

My wife spent twenty years counseling East Chicago Central High School students. One of her friends, English teacher Irene Vrehas, lived out with her students significant moments in literary history. When she told her students of the coming Civil Rights speaker, her Black, Mexican and Puerto Rican students were surprised that an older white man came to visit their class. They somehow assumed that all Civil Rights soldiers would be African American.

I have returned to Hayneville a half dozen times, including this past summer with a group from Jonathan's seminary. When I visited in 2009, Sheriff and County Judge John Hulett had just died. I was invited to attend the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Monday morning meeting. The Board of Commissioners has three Black members and two whites. This is quite a change from 1965 when there were no registered Black voters in Bloody Lowndes. One of the two white commissioners wanted me to know how his father had reached out to help me the Friday afternoon of Coleman's shootings.

Like the eleven hours surgery in the same Montgomery Baptist Hospital which six months earlier had denied services to a wounded young Jimmie Lee Jackson. It was Jackson's death which initially triggered the Selma March. While waiting in the Emergency Room hallway, a young Irish-born priest James Quinlisk convinced Dr. Charles Cox, an Air Force surgeon with battlefield wounds experience, to put together the surgical team which gave eleven hours to repair me and restore me to life and hope. While I would later experience then unknown Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, I sing with the joy of fifty years for their contribution to my well-being. Neurosurgeon Dr. Frank Miles wondered why I lacked anger and hate. How could I hate someone I had never met and would only come to know in the ensuing years?

It was the day after the 2009 Selma Reunion in which I had lunch with Congressman John Lewis and Father Daniel Coughlin, the first Catholic Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. Father Dan and I were four years apart in the seminary and served together of the staff of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral from 1966 to 1969. Now every second year, Atlanta Congressman Lewis, formerly a SNCC chairman, leads Washington Congressmen, their staffs and families on Civil Rights Pilgrimage through Virginia, across the Carolinas and Georgia, and into the Alabama of Selma and the Voting Rights Act efforts of 1965.

I have visited Keene and Cambridge. My son and I stayed at the Episcopal Divinity School when he was trying to decide whether to apply for Boston College or Amherst. He chose Amherst, which some of Jon's Keene High School classmates attended.

Jonathan, however, chose a different school, Virginia Military Institute, which I have also visited a half dozen times. VMI rediscovered its alum around 1990. His VW should have been kept in the tradition of Thomas Stonewall Jackson's horse Little Sorrel, still preserved in the Institute's museum. VMI has grown proud of Jonathan, the 1961 class valedictorian, as Black students organized, as women students entered under the mandate of the U.S. Supreme Court, as awardees President Jimmy Carter, Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young received awards. This March Congressman John Lewis will receive the VMI Award.

The student residences at VMI are termed barracks, a military term for student dorms. Jonathan's civic, patriotic contribution to his school and to our country's history was commemorated when one of four arches was named in his honor. Not bad, to be remembered with three other distinguished arch honorees — George Washington, Virginian, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, graduate, faculty member and Civil War general, George Marshall, VMI graduate, World War II strategist and leader, and Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

Jon also has become an Episcopal saint. I was one of a dozen priests and laity who flew to Phoenix with Father Francis Walter in July 1991 to lobby Episcopal bishops, priests and laity to add Jonathan Myrick Daniels to the Prayer Book of Feasts and Fasts. Fr. Walter had followed Jonathan's Selma ministry. We joyfully embraced this past August in Hayneville. The Episcopal bishops wondered whether or not Jonathan was simply a patriot, one with deep love for his country. Fortunately, his writings and speeches indicated that a clear stream of faith motivated his actions. In 1994 the same Episcopal Convention added two pages of Jon's history and of his church's August 14th liturgy, under the title "Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Seminarian and Martyr."

Copyright © Richard Morrisroe. 2015


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