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Campus Celebrities: Ruby Sales and Jonathan Daniels, Civil Rights Heroes

Campus Celebrity pieces tend to highlight students, teachers, alumni, employees, or anybody associated with the University in one way or another. This particular piece, however, is slightly different.

All of the windows in All Saints’ Chapel tell stories—biblical, historical, even personal anecdotes can be immortalized in stained glass windows. There is one set of three large windows that can be found on the left side of the aisle, and this large stained glass masterpiece is referred to as a depiction of the “American Episcopal Church” throughout the years, with each lancet, or square, depicting a different scene.  

The left window contains four lancets that each depict a significant historical event that took place during the Civil Rights era. The bottom lancet depicts how the Episcopal Church opened up the door to the Ordination of Women in 1976. The lancet just above it depicts Civil Rights heroes Jonathan Daniels and Ruby Sales.

The window depicts Daniels (center), linking arms with Sales (right) and an unknown black priest (left). Below them is a banner reading “WE SHALL OVERCOME”, a lyric from a famous song that became symbolic to the Civil Rights movement, and another one with the year 1965 written in gold underneath it, the year the Voting Rights Act was passed and the year the Selma to Montgomery marches took place. Just below, there is a banner reading “JONATHAN DANIELS”.

Ruby Sales was just 16 years old when she participated in the famous Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. When returning to her home in Jemison, Alabama, six days after the march ended in Montgomery, she stopped at a convenience store in Hayneville to buy a snack. Also in the store returning from the march was Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal Priest and fellow Civil Rights activist. All of a sudden, the white storeowner pulled out a gun and pointed it directly at Sales. Just as he pulled the trigger, Daniels pushed Sales out of the way and took the bullet that was meant for her, killing him instantly. Sales survived.

Daniels pictured tutoring a young girl (not Ruby Sales) in Selma in 1965, months before he was shot and killed protecting Sales.

Sales was traumatized for the rest of her life, but remained forever grateful for the heroic actions of Jonathan Daniels, the complete stranger who saved her. She is now one of the most prominent civil rights activists in the nation. The Spirithouse Project, which she founded in 2001, is a “social justice organization that brings multi-ethnic people and intergenerational communities together in a process of community formation”, according to its website. She travels around the world speaking out about injustices, sharing her personal story, and galvanizing support around important civil rights issues.

Her travels took her to Sewanee last year, when the School of Theology invited her to come and speak. Mrs. Sales had no idea that she was depicted in the window of All Saints’ as a 16-year-old girl, standing arm-in-arm with Jonathan Daniels, the man who saved her life when she was that age.    

Ruby Sales is a campus celebrity because she took time to come to Sewanee to deliver her important message grounded in her “long-held belief that racial injustice, all forms of injustice, and violence are social and spiritual diseases that contaminate and dehumanize all of us.”

She is also a celebrity because she is immortalized in one of the most important windows, in my opinion, in All Saints’ Chapel. I believe that the deceased Jonathan Daniels should be a campus celebrity as well. Their presence in the stained glass windows symbolizes the sacrifices that have been made so that we, Sewanee students, can enjoy the life and relationships we have today. Behold how good it was when Jonathan Daniels made the ultimate sacrifice so that Ruby Sales could live, fighting for a cause hoping that one day brothers and sisters of all colors could truly dwell together in unity.  

Annie is a senior English major and Women's and Gender Studies minor from Macon, GA. 
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