NORTHAMPTON – A commemorative pilgrimage, beginning and ending at the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies, 225 Nonotuck St., will be held Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., in honor of slain civil rights worker and Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Daniels.
The white New Hampshire native had traveled from his divinity school in Cambridge to Alabama to do voter registration work when he was killed by a part-time sheriff on Aug 20, 1965. The state’s attorney general at the time called Daniels’ killing “another Ku Kux Klan murder” in a county known for violent bigotry.
An all-white jury acquitted the sheriff who also seriously wounded a white Catholic priest walking with Daniels to buy a soda. A black teen said Daniels’ pulled her to safety before he was fatally shot. The group had been on the grounds of a convenience store when the sheriff order them off the property and began to shoot.
Saturday’s event, sponsored by the Social Justice Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, includes an hour-long walking tour celebrating local African American history, as well as a visit to the Ruggles center and a Eucharist celebration.
Black abolitionist, publisher and Connecticut native Ruggles, who died in 1849, was an Underground Railroad conductor in New York City who helped hundreds of slaves, including Frederick Douglass, escape to the North.
In failing health toward the end of the 1930s and with assistance from fellow abolitionist and writer Lydia Maria Child, Ruggles joined the Northampton Associate of Education and Industry, a utopian community in Florence whose members also included Sojourner Truth.
The area around the Ruggles center has been mapped to highlight homes of fugitive slaves, members of the utopian community who housed fugitive slaves as well as the home of Truth.
Daniels, who had responded to Martin Luther King’s call for northern clergy to support the civil rights movement, had been arrested Aug. 14, in Alabama, and jailed for six days during a protest against discriminatory business practices. The Episcopal church, which recognizes Daniels as a civil rights martyr, commemorates Aug. 14 as his feast day.
Since 1999, the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama has helped sponsor the annual Jonathan Daniels Martyrs of Alabama Pilgrimage, in August, which begins at the Lowndes County Courthouse Square in Hayneville.
Western Massachusetts Episcopal Bishop Douglas Fisher attended the pilgrimage, in 2015, on the 50th anniversary of Daniels’ murder.
Refreshments will be served at Saturday’s event for which a donation of $10 is suggested.