Promoted as a jubilant celebration of reconciliation, the grand multi-media event, A Journey to Freedom, Honor & Glory . . . fulfilled all expectations and filled the house at The Colonial Theatre in Keene, NH, on October 16, 2005. The following wrap-up captures the spirit of the event.
Republished with permission from The Keene State College Equinox
Colonial pays tribute to local Civil Rights hero
By Brian McElhiney
Published: Thursday, October 20, 2005
Keene, NH, seems to be about as far removed from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as one can get.
But as the Colonial Theatre proved Sunday, Oct. 16 with its tribute to Jonathan Daniels, the connection is not as far-fetched as it may seem.
A full house greeted the speakers, singers and musicians gathered for "A Journey to Freedom, Honor and Glory: Celebrating Jonathan Daniels," a three-hour multimedia concert in honor of the Keene-born civil rights hero.
"What we tried to do was pull together different ways of experiencing this young man's life, through the documentary, music and people there who knew him," said Larry Benaquist, director of Keene State College's film studies program.
Benaquist co-produced a documentary on the life of Daniels, "Her e Am I, Send Me," along with William Sullivan, KSC professor now emeritus. Segments of the film were shown throughout the afternoon at the Colonial.
The event closely followed Daniels' life, from his birth in Keene on March 20, 1939 to his murder in Hayneville, Ala. on Aug. 20, 1965 while protecting 17-year-old Ruby Sales, a black Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) volunteer.
Clips of the documentary were sandwiched between performances by the Voices of Eliot choir and narration from Rawn Spearman, a professor emeritus at the College of Fine Arts at University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
After a photo montage of Daniels in Keene and in Lowndes County, AL, Spearman took control of the stage, guiding the audience through the rest of the afternoon's events.
"Jonathan would be in his 66th year if he was still with us," said Spearman. "It's quite possible he would have retired to Keene, or he may have spurned retirement. We can picture him settling down in one of these very seats here, to watch a movie or a concert."
Spearman touched upon Daniels' "fatal decision" to answer Martin Luther King Jr.'s call after the march in Selma, Ala. in March of 1965, and his subsequent death.
"In 1965, Jonathan took a shotgun blast aimed at another," said Spearman. "What led this skinny, fun-loving New Hampshire teenager to make this sacrifice? Perhaps we will find some answers a little later."
Clips of "Here Am I, Send Me" were divided up into three segments.
The first dealt with interviews from Daniels' upbringing in Keene, his years at Virginia Military Institute and Harvard University and his decision to become an Episcopal priest in 1962.
The second segment detailed Daniels' decision to head south and help in the Civil Rights movement. Throughout the film, a narrator read Daniels' own words.
"I was singing the 'Magnificat' that night, straining toward a decision," said Daniels. "Then it came...I knew then that I must go to Selma."
The third segment told of Daniels' arrest on Aug. 14, 1965.
He was released on Aug. 20, and was shot by deputy sheriff Tom Coleman at a convenience store while pulling Sales out of the way.
The Voices of Eliot performed "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me" and "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired," as well as "Order My Steps" and "Just as Soon as I Get There" in between clips. The choir hailed from Eliot Church in Roxbury, Mass.
"We got in touch with them, and they invited us to come down to meet them," said Benaquist. "They wanted to know more about Jonathan, so we put it in a context for them."
Among the speakers at the event were close friends and colleagues of Daniels, including Richard Morrisroe, Judith Upham, Carlton Russell and Sales herself.
Russell, a close friend of Daniels from their high school days in Keene, read a poem he composed shortly after Daniels' death.
"He loved life but held it lightly," Russell said. "If he gave too much perhaps we do not know how to give."
Sales was the final speaker in the first part of the event.
"[Jonathan] set out to Alabama and became part of a beloved community of ordinary people," said Sales.
"That day when we went to jail, in the face of baseball bats and guns, we had an opportunity to understand," said Sales. "That jail became a transformed space, from a place where cronies went, a space of great oppression, to a space of liberation."
Sales concluded with a message of hope.
Jonathan learned new things about theology; he learned what it meant to stand up and say, 'I love everybody, and you can't make me hate you in my heart,'" said Sales. "Jonathan was right, the movement continues, the long distance runners who say they are still running for justice and they're sure not tired yet. Jonathan, you would be proud."
The program concluded with a cantata of the same namesake as the event, composed by Julius P. Williams, a professor at Berklee College of Music, and directed by Carroll Lehman, musical director and conductor of the Monadnock Chorus.
"We felt people needed to see this piece by Julius Williams, but 40 minutes doesn't make a concert," said Benaquist. "So we embedded clips of the film and narration from Rawn Spearman to create a more comprehensive experience."
The cantata was closely based on Daniels' life, and was performed by an orchestra, choir and soloists Maria Ferrante and Charles Lindsey.
According to Williams, inspiration for the piece came easily.