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Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the commencement of the Allied invasion of continental Europe. Within a year, Hitler was dead and the Nazi reign of terror over.
President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 speech at Normandy marked the 40th anniversary of the invasion. Reagan used the opportunity not only to honor the allied soldiers who fought their way ashore, but also to strengthen NATO’s resolve in the face of threatened Soviet nuclear missile deployments to Eastern Europe. I introduced this speech to my high school rhetoric and debate students as one of the great presidential speeches of the 20th century.
My father, George Thomas Wingard, Jr., fought in Europe later in the war. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, which began on December 16, 1944, his 21st birthday. My cousin, George King, son of Clinton and Magnolia Wingard King, was killed during the D-Day invasion. Their courage and the courage of all America’s military forces should be remembered.
Fifty years ago today VMI graduate and Episcopal theological student Jon Daniels was murdered in Hayneville, Alabama.
A New Hampshire native, Daniels spent much of the spring and summer of 1965 working in Selma, Alabama’s voter registration campaign. While picketing racially discriminatory businesses in Ft. Deposit on August 14, he was one of a group of protestors arrested and transported to the county jail in nearby Hayneville. In wretched living conditions, Daniels labored for the better part of a week to keep up the group’s spirits, leading his fellow prisoners in prayer and hymn singing. An Episcopal group offered to post bail for Daniels. He declined; there wasn’t enough money to free all the prisoners. He would remain with his colleagues.
Unexpectedly and ominously, the prisoners were released on August 20 without posting bail. Turned out on the street, they were alone and without transportation to safety.
Tired, dirty, and hungry, four members of the group walked one block to the Varner Cash Store to buy sodas. Seventeen year-old Tuskegee student Ruby Sales led, followed by Daniels, Catholic priest Richard Morrisroe, and Joyce Bailey. They were met at the door by a highway employee and unpaid special sheriff’s deputy armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. He cursed Sales and pointed his weapon at her. Daniels pushed her to the ground, shielding her from the subsequent blast. As Morrisroe and Bailey fled, a second round tore into the young priest’s back. Severely wounded, he would survive. Daniels died instantly.
Martin Luther King Jr. called his sacrifice “one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry.”
Sam Waterston narrates a documentary tribute to Jon Daniels’ life. Near its conclusion is a chilling interview with Daniels’ killer, Tom Coleman. Asked if he would change anything if he went through the same experience again, he replied: “I wouldn’t have changed a bit. If the same thing happened in the morning that happened that day, I would shoot them both tomorrow.” Acquitted of manslaughter by an all-white male jury after two hours of deliberation, he lived another 35 years in Hayneville until his death at age 86.
After dinner in Georgia last week with one of Daniels’ VMI classmates, Lynne and I drove to Hayneville. Friends of VMI placed a monument in front of the Lowndes County Courthouse.
Sadly, the Cash Store was torn down last year. The asking price for the property proved too high for those who wished to preserve it. When it became apparent the building would be demolished, individuals sought to obtain the steps upon which Daniels died. These too were destroyed and a civil rights landmark lost to history. The picture below shows the new construction on the site.
The white X below is on an adjacent piece of property, about 12′ from where Daniels fell. A monument will be placed there to remember the seminarian who laid down his life for his friend.
Jonathan Daniels’ story of Christian honor and courage must never be forgotten.
For more information about Jon Daniels, see Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968 and Charles W. Eagles, Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama.
Sixty years ago this summer, two men removed a seventy-four pound fan (used for ginning cotton) from this building. After torturing and murdering fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, they wrapped barbed wire around his neck and the fan, and dumped them into Tallahatchie River. The young black teenager’s alleged whistling at a white woman at Bryant Grocery and Meat Market in nearby Money, Mississippi set in motion the events that led to his abduction and death.
The cotton gin, located in Glendora, Mississippi, now houses the The Emmett Till Museum. Lynne and I visited several years ago when the museum was closed. During our visit to the Delta yesterday, we were able to return and view its sobering exhibits.
In August 1955 Mamie Till put her happy son on a train bound from Chicago to visit family in the Mississippi Delta. He was returned to her in a pine coffin. After viewing her son’s grotesquely mutilated face, she directed he receive an open-casket funeral, a decision that had far-reaching consequences. Pictures of Emmett Till – the smiling young boy and the savagely beaten corpse – were transmitted around the world. The historical marker at the site of Bryant’s Grocery continues the story:
News of the murder and the trial that followed outraged black and sympathetic white Americans, and the case became a catalyst for the American civil rights movement. . . . on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama, precipitating the Montgomery bus boycott. When asked why she did not go to the back of the bus after being threatened with arrest, she said she thought of Emmett Till, and she couldn’t go back.
Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam were charged, tried, and acquitted of Emmett Till’s murder by an all-white jury. Shortly thereafter, they confessed to the crime in a Look magazine interview, for which they received $4,000. Double jeopardy protection shielded them from retrial.
For information about the Emmett Till murder, watch this episode of PBS’s American Experience.
Glendora, Mississippi is three hours northwest of Jackson. I encourage RTS students to make the trip and visit the Emmett Till Museum.
Indomitable physical courage, moral strength, and Christian conviction marked the life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Yesterday Lynne and I visited her gravesite at Ruleville in the Mississippi Delta.
Mrs. Hamer came to national prominence when she addressed the 1964 Democratic National Convention Credentials Committee. She described the imprisonment and brutal beating she endured during the 1963 summer voter registration drive. Watch a brief historical introduction and then listen to her eight minute speech.
The youngest of twenty children, her family were sharecroppers. Her attempt to register to vote in 1962 led to the firing of her and her husband from the plantation where she had worked for eighteen years.
Her gravesite is located in the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden. A few hundred yards to the west is the Fannie Lou Hamer Museum. Visitors should leave at least an hour to tour the exhibits.
She said, “I’m never sure when I leave home whether I’ll make it back or not . . . but if I fall, I fall five feet and four inches forward and I’m not backing off it!” Her plaintive epitaph reads: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Charles March’s God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights includes a brief biography of Fannie Lou Hamer. He observes that “the church had sustained her wearied spirit when all other institutions had served contrary purposes” (13).
Two and one half hours northwest of Jackson, I encourage RTS students to visit the Garden and Museum.
In Modern Times Paul Johnson chronicles the rise of the Soviet terror state.
“The arbitrary nature of the arrests was essential to create the climate of fear which, next to the need for labour, was the chief motive for the non-party terror. An OGPU [the Soviet secret police from 1922-34] man admitted to the Manchester Guardian Moscow correspondent that innocent people were arrested: naturally – otherwise no one would be frightened. If people, he said, were arrested only for specific misdemeanours, all the others would feel safe and so become ripe for treason.” (Harperrenial, 2001), 274-275
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, arguably the greatest leader of the 20th century. This brief video contains footage of his state funeral.
In yesterday’s National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson argues that “the United States has never owed more to a foreign citizen than to Winston Churchill, a monumental presence 50 years after his death.”
Until October, when I had to curtail my activities, I enjoyed listening to history lectures on my longer runs. Below are some of my favorites.
Series from The Teaching Company:
- The Conservative Tradition, Patrick Allitt
- Famous Greeks, Rufus Fears
- Famous Romans, Rufus Fears
- Robert E. Lee and His High Command, Gary Gallagher
- The American Mind, Allen Guelzo
Donald Kagan’s “Ancient Greek History” lectures are available for free through Open Yale Courses. Both audio and video are available. In one lecture he uses students to demonstrate the hoplite phalanx. The video is hilarious.
I remain an enthusiastic subscriber to Ken Myers’ Mars Hill Audio Journal, which “is committed to assisting Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement. “