The Killing of Jonathan Daniels
Charles (Chuck) Bonner

Exerpted from
Tip of the Arrow: the Selma Student Nonviolent Movement, a Study in Leadership
by Charles Bonner


I drive to the SNCC Office in Jonathan Daniel's yellow convertible Dodge rental car. I am in the SNCC office in Downtown Selma listening to Stokely Carmichael, the SNCC Field Director at this time, discuss with SNCC field secretaries the emerging idea of starting an alternate party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to challenge rooster of the 'Dixiecrats', the white Democratic Party. Our symbol will be the "Black Panther! We need something to eat that fucking racist white rooster." This has been an ongoing discussion since Stokely arrived in Selma and starting working in Lowndes County, just across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, South-East of Selma. Stokely is emphasizing, "Lowndes County is more than 80% Black Folks, but not one Negro has voted in 100 years, since Abraham Lincoln freed us slaves, not one!"

The black desk phone rings and rings and rings debate and discussion about creating this new political party for Black folks, a party they can vote for as an alternative to the White, racist "Dixiecrats" Party.

"Stokely ... Phone! Urgent!" Silence. All our eyes are focused on Stokely, expecting the worst as we always do, but hoping we are wrong. Please, not another Rev. Reeb, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, not another murder, lynching, violence against us. Stokely's black face turns gray. All life slowly drains from his eyes. He sinks down heavily in a chair and we know before he says anything that our worst fears are true once again. "Them fucking racists have shot and killed Rev. Jonathan Daniels and several other folks. They are threatening to dynamite black folks' homes!" he rages. We are all silent, hearts aching. Will this pain never stop?

Furious and scared, we race down the stairs from the second floor, jump into two cars and speed to Haynesville, Lowndes County. I am driving Rev. Daniels' yellow 1964 Plymouth which I have been keeping while he is in jail. Now he will never drive it again, and we will never see him again. This handsome young white man who has followed his conscience to help us, has given his life for us. Stokely is in the passenger seat, and Doug Harris, a SNCC photographer in the right rear seat, with a Nikon with a long lens in one hand, and a long double barrel shotgun in the other. The other car has three SNCC workers in it, with one actually "riding shotgun".

Stokely breaks the silence and palpable fear, as the white lines on the highway dash past: "We are nonviolent — but we are not going to be martyrs. We are not The Lord," referring to Dr. King. "We will damned well defend ourselves if we have too!" Silence again falls over the car as we turn off Hwy. 80 East and race south down a red gravel road, past corn fields and white cotton shining in the dusky dark of night. Driving down a little sandy lane we don't see any lights at Mr. Jamison's house, the local Black Panther Party Leader. We park. Get out of the car. Stokely looks around the right side of the house; I look around the other side. No one appears to be home. This is very unusual. Stokely calls: "Mr. Jamison, its Stokely. Mr. Jamison!!" His voice echoes. The day is turning blue-dark. All is quiet and all kinds of fears run through me.

Slowly, a head is raising up from down beneath the tall cotton stalks; then another silhouette of a body emerges; and a third, fourth and finally a crowd of people are standing up from the tall cotton. "Is that you, Stokely?" "Yes, Mr. Jamison." One by one, a field filled with black folks are standing up, with guns, axes, hoes, rifles, and all kinds of make-shift weapons.

"The white folks done killed that young white preacher this afternoon and shot a whole bunch of Negroes. They put the word out that they were going to bomb our houses tonight. Klan is going to ride all night. Everybody, all the Negroes are scared to death here in Lowndes County. Can't sleep in our homes!"

We stay the night with these people, talking, watching, listening, holding our breath and praying that we will not have violence from the Klan, thinking about Rev. Daniels and what he has given for us. Stokely and I have become very close with Rev. Daniels. Stokely has admired his courage and accepted his help with Stokely's new Freedom Party in Lowndes County. Rev. Daniels has told us that he watched Dr. King's speech on television following the beating and tear gassing of us and came to join the fight for freedom. He marched with us on turn-around Tuesday, went back to the seminary and returned to Selma for the final march to Montgomery. He left Selma, went back to Cambridge, Mass and return to Selma in mid-August. Like many white students, he has elected to stay and help us, and also like most of the other white students such as Janet Baker and Bob Block and Joyce Brians, he has been living with a black family. He has frequently been at the SNCC office and Freedom House. That is why I am driving his car right now. Before he went to protest the denial of the right to vote in Lowndes County, he gave me his car keys until he returned to Selma. Now he will never return.

The voters' rights legislature has become law. We are feeling victorious. Change is here at last. White folks now will surely change and obey the new law. That is what Rev. Daniels was thinking when he went to Haynesville. He and the others with him have been jailed in Haynesville and we have been waiting for a call to let us know when they are released. I was going to drive to Haynesville and pick up Rev. Daniel and as many as I could fit into Rev. Daniels' car as soon as I heard from him. The folks tell us, with tears falling: "That young white preacher jump in front of the black girl, 17-year old Ruby Sales when that white man pointed the shotgun, and he shot this young white boy. Killed instantly. He was only 26."

Copyright © Charles Bonner. 2020

See Murder of Jonathan Daniels for background & more information.
See also Jonathan Daniels for web links.

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