On Tuesday, a youth group from St. James Episcopal Church in Keene left on a journey back in time to the civil rights movement, in a trip marking 50th anniversary of Elm City native Jonathan Daniels’ death.
Nine children, ages 10 to 16, were slated to participate in the Jonathan Daniels pilgrimage to Alabama, according to Derek M. Scalia, the St. James youth pilgrimage leader and chairman of the city of Keene’s Martin Luther King Jr./Jonathan Daniels Committee.
“There’s an amazing opportunity for these students to actually walk where the movement took place, to visit the sites in which people sacrificed their reputation in the community and, for many, ultimately gave their life,” Scalia said. “It’s extremely moving.”
The group arrived Tuesday in Atlanta, where they visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. Today, participants will travel to Montgomery, Ala., to view the city’s former Slave Depot and Slave Market, volunteer at Common Ground, an inner-city/urban youth ministry, and visit the Rosa Parks Museum and the National Center for Study on Civil Rights.
This isn’t Scalia’s first time visiting the places on the pilgrimage’s itinerary. More than a year ago, he led Franklin Pierce University students on a civil rights tour to Alabama. Scalia is the assistant director of student involvement at the Rindge university.
“The energy (of the activism) is still very much alive and present, and it connects you to the emotional sacrifices, the cause of justice that inspired so many people to act,” Scalia said.
The 50th anniversary of Daniels’ death, he said, is probably the most important because it’s one of the last major anniversaries when people who knew Daniels will still be alive.
“For the opportunity for our youth to be present with these people, to meet them, to have conversations with them, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Scalia said.
From Montgomery, Ala., the group will travel to Selma Thursday to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of Bloody Sunday. More than 50 years ago, marchers demanding voting rights were beaten back by Alabama State Police on the bridge. Later Thursday, the youth group will also visit the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma.
Elena G. Fedrizzi, 10, of Keene is one of the pilgrimage’s participants and said she’s looking forward to seeing and walking the bridge.
Elena said she wants to “see what it feels like — not exactly — but how it feels like for people to take the same march that black people did 50 years ago, and remember all that happened and how it’s changed.”
On Friday, the group heads back to Montgomery to visit the Civil Rights Memorial and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which King led from 1954 to 1960, and in whose basement he organized the Montgomery bus boycott.
The pilgrimage culminates Saturday when the group will travel to Hayneville, Ala., where Daniels was shot and killed by Deputy Sheriff Tom Coleman while shielding a black teenager, Ruby Sales, from the gunfire. Coleman was charged with manslaughter and later acquitted by an all-white jury.
Daniels, a seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., was in Alabama in the summer of 1965 in response to a plea from King for clergy to become more actively involved in the civil rights movement by helping with voter registration efforts in the South.
“I feel like he means bravery and courage to people,” Elena said of Daniels, who was 26 when he was killed.
The Episcopal Church officially recognized Daniels as a martyr in 1991.
The youth group will join the pilgrimage led by the Diocese of Alabama in Hayneville that day.
Gov. Maggie Hassan is declaring Aug. 22 as Jonathan Daniels Day. That day in Keene, the Jonathan Daniels 50th Anniversary Commemoration Committee is hosting an event at The Colonial Theatre to honor Daniels.
St. James Episcopal Church on West Street, where Jonathan Daniels was a parishioner, will host a commemorative worship service for Daniels Sunday, Aug. 23, at 9 a.m.
The event is one of many organized throughout the year to commemorate him. In January, for example, Keene Mayor Kendall W. Lane declared 2015 to be the year of Jonathan Daniels, and in April, the Monadnock International Film Festival honored Daniels through film, panel discussions and the annual award named after him.
The St. James youth group will not be the only Granite Staters in Alabama this week. Three St. James parishioners are participating in a pilgrimage led by Daniels’ seminary, now called Episcopal Divinity School, according to Christine H. Weeks, co-chairwoman of the Jonathan Daniels 50th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.
The school’s pilgrimage runs from today to Sunday and includes visits to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the National Voting Rights Museum, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Civil Rights Memorial and Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham.
The group will also join the Diocese of Alabama in Hayneville on Saturday.
Bridget Hansel, a Keene resident and senior warden of the St. James vestry, thinks the pilgrimage is going to be a “very powerful” experience.
She called Daniels an inspiration, and said she’s curious to see Hayneville and learn more about what it was like there during the civil rights movement.
“Ultimately, I think Jonathan’s legacy is about the whole idea of, we’re all one,” she said.