“O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
On August 14, 1965, the day Jonathan Daniels was arrested for picketing local businesses, I was twelve days from turning twelve years old. Many things were changing in my young life, but the issue of Civil Rights was not one of them. The death of a white boy in Alabama did not have much chance of resonating in my pre-teen rural Texas life. I lived on a ranch outside of Comanche, Texas. The town was very white oriented, even to the point of the big tree on the square referred to more often than not as the “Hanging Tree.”
The official myth behind the tree was that long ago it stood there during a raid by a group of Comanche Indians on the little settlement. Every person in the town was killed that day, except for one boy. He had the foresight to climb high in the tree and was quiet enough to be invisible to those trying to rid the land of the white interlopers. That is the official story of the tree. Yet, to its shame, it was also the site of numerous hangings of young black men further along in history.
It is not as though I was unaware of injustice. I knew it for what it was. It lived in many instances of everyday life. Yet the news of Jonathan Myrick Daniels’ death in Alabama did not penetrate my reality.
Playing the game of ‘What If?’ is rarely a worthwhile thing to play. Yet, if I did play it, I would like to think that had I known, had I been just a little older, I would have been motivated much as Jon Daniels was.
But that was then and it hardly matters what I might have done had I the chance. The only question worth asking today is, “What am I doing now?”
Often, I think – a lot! But always, at my core, I know it is not THE thing and it is far, far from enough.
I do not know what call lies ahead of me. But I do believe this: “the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Galatians 3:23-26) Therefore I am subject first and foremost to my faith that God will guide me, today, tomorrow and the next.
So, I know the answer.
It has to be the same as Jonathan Daniels’, “I knew then that I must go…”