KEENE, N.H. -- "He was the first white person who had said to me that I had pretty hair. It did take me aback a bit. Not that I didn't think my hair was pretty. I had grown up being told that by other black people. But I had never heard a white person say it. In some real ways, it was the first person I'd heard who said black was beautiful, the first white person."

Ruby Sales is talking about Jonathan Myrick Daniels, the young seminarian who 25 years ago gave his life to save hers. Now a community activist in Washington, Sales was only 16, a schoolgirl, when a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Ala., stepped out of a doorway, called her a "bitch" and leveled a shotgun at her belly. Jonathan Daniels yanked her away and took the shot full in his chest. He was 26.

Today in this New England town that was Daniels's home, on a small college campus, Ruby Sales and other veterans of the American civil rights movement will gather to commemorate the life and death of one of the movement's least remembered casualties.

History is an imperfect record, at best an approximation skewed by transient passions and by the eccentric spin of competing events. Some things small receive disproportionate attention. Some things great are lost forever. Jonathan Daniels's name does not live with those of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney, or Emmett Till, or Medgar Evers. His killing was overtaken by the events of the day. The Watts riots had occurred the week before, and the focus of the civil rights movement had shifted north and west. The trial of Daniels's killer was not widely covered: The newspapers in New York were on strike, and without them to set the agenda, network TV news ignored the trial.

What remains of Jonathan Daniels is a panoply of memories in a few dozen lives.

Daniels had grown up here, an almost all-white city where his father was a much-loved doctor. After high school he went to the Virginia Military Institute, where he was valedictorian of the class of '61. He wrote his English thesis on Albert Camus, and chose this epigraph for it: There is no love of life without despair about life. ... I exalt man before that which crushes him.

In March 1965 Daniels was attending classes at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., when the call went out for clergy to join the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on his Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.

Unlike many other Northern whites who joined the movement, he was not out to "prove himself," recalls one of his classmates, the Rev. C. Blayney Colemore, "or because he wanted to find out if he was brave, or because he was so angry at the white segregationists ... all of which, I think, were in there, but he was really fundamentally there for the same reason I guess Beethoven wrote symphonies. Because he just knew that that was what he was supposed to do."

Daniels marched to Montgomery and then decided to stay behind to try to integrate the local Episcopal church, to tutor black children, and to work with Southern blacks and the white government to try to win community services for poor families. In August 1965, a call went out for help registering voters in nearby Lowndes County.

"Selma was dangerous {but} Lowndes County was Mars," remembers Mark Oliver, who worked with Daniels in Alabama. The town of Hayneville had a cross burned on the courthouse lawn and a big swastika painted on a water tower. "That county was so violent and so rigid that there'd been no liaisons made in the white community, like we had in Selma."

The county was known as Bloody Lowndes -- a Klan stronghold. Some 12,000 of the county's 15,000 citizens were black and not one had ever voted.

The white establishment wanted no changes, least of all interference by do-gooder Northern whites. Just after the Selma march, Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights worker from Detroit, was driving marchers home when she was shot to death in her car. After the man charged with killing her, a Klansman, was found innocent by a court, ominous bumper stickers began to appear in Lowndes. They said, simply: "Open Season."

"It was always dangerous driving around," says Oliver, who now owns a small construction company in Idaho. "We had a very common technique used in the civil rights movement throughout the South. If someone came up behind you and started to pass, everyone would bend over and you'd put on the brakes and slow yourself down so the pass would go quicker."

Daniels got rid of a red VW he was driving -- it was too well known and he had been fired upon. He rented a big red Plymouth Fury with a V-8 engine, so he could push it to 100 miles an hour if necessary.

Lowndes had not seen any local civil rights protests. Daniels had come to Fort Deposit, in Lowndes, one August day to help a group of demonstrators. He wasn't planning to march, but when he saw how tentatively the small group of teenagers set out, he joined, joking with the marchers, trying to boost morale. The FBI had warned that there would be trouble, but it would not offer protection.

A crowd gathered. "There were white men who were totally out of control," recalls Ruby Sales, "a mob of white men with baseball bats, guns, garbage cans. Jeering. And the next thing we heard this guy came up and said, 'You're under arrest, niggers, you're under arrest.' And we were ushered into a garbage truck. And then were taken to Hayneville to jail."

They were never formally charged. They spent a week in a dirty jail, some of the group crowded eight to a cell.

One woman had a bleeding ulcer and though she called out in pain for hours, her jailers ignored her.

"But in spite of the fact that all these conditions existed, the other side of that was it was high-spirited," says Sales. "A real sense of camaraderie. We were not depressed about being there. It was just another way one could show one's commitment." The group prayed and sang freedom songs, just so the town knew they were still there.

The Rev. Henri Stines from the Episcopal Church had come to bail Daniels out.

"I warned him that this jail was not safe," says Stines, "that anyone could go in and do harm to them." But Daniels said no. He said he would not leave his brothers.

Stines was the last person from the church to see Daniels alive.

Freedom, and Then 2 Shots Abruptly on the afternoon of Aug. 20 they were freed. No one had posted bond. They were suspicious. Word was out around the movement that this was how Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney had been killed: released from jail, followed by vigilantes and killed in the dark.

The group did not want to leave the jail until someone picked them up, but they were ordered out. They were not even allowed a phone call.

Sales remembers: "We left the jail in a group, and we walked up to the corner and it was one of those hot steamy summer days where the heat literally comes up through the pavement and you can see little circles, little vapors, coming up from the pavement. And we'd been in jail, underfed, and we were thirsty."

Daniels went to get a soda with Sales, the Rev. Richard Morrisroe and another protester, Joyce Bailey.

"As we were walking to the store," Sales says, "suddenly there was an ominous sense that filled the air and I became very nervous... . The street was clean of cars. There was literally no one around. This was 3, 2 o'clock or something. It was as if the town was suddenly shut down."

They had all frequented that store before. They knew that civil rights workers were accepted there.

"We started walking up the stairs. I was in front, Jon was behind, and Joyce Bailey and Father Morrisroe were walking side by side up the steps. And when I got to the last step, Tom Coleman was standing there brandishing a shotgun."

Coleman was a 52-year-old sheriff's deputy, a member of one of the county's most prominent families.

"He said, 'Bitch, I'll blow your brains out,' " Sales says.

"And then I felt a tug and I fell back -- a shotgun blast, a thud." Daniels had pulled her out of the way, and had taken the full force of the 12-gauge shotgun. His body was blown backward a dozen feet.

"A few seconds later, another shot. And then I heard Richard {Morrisroe} on the ground crying for water, water, water, water... ."

Cars on the street were driving by as if nothing had happened.

Morrisroe was shot in the spine. He spent 11 hours in surgery, six months in the hospital and two years in physical therapy. His injury affects the way he walks today. But the former priest can still play basketball with his son, who was born 10 years after the shooting and named Jonathan in memory of the principled young seminarian who died at Morrisroe's side.

Justice's Blind Eye The trial of Deputy Sheriff Coleman was a sham. County Solicitor Carlton Perdue was quoted in the newspapers saying that if Daniels and Morrisroe had "been tending to their own business, like I tend to mine, they'd be living and enjoying themselves today." Perdue was the prosecutor.

Morrisroe, still in the hospital, never got to testify, because a judge ruled that delaying the trial would infringe on Coleman's rights.

"On the day of the trial," says Sales, "none of the civil rights workers who were going to testify were permitted to come into the court. We were all made to wait out in the rain like cattle. And when I walked up to testify, a white man in the courtroom pulled a knife on me and told me he'd cut my guts out. There were so many threats on my life if I testified." (She did anyway.)

An all-white jury had been impaneled in 40 minutes. At one point during the proceedings, a juror gave Coleman "a broad wink," reported Time magazine.

The defendant claimed self-defense, saying that Daniels had a knife and Morrisroe had a pistol, though no weapons were ever found.

The defense also claimed the two men had been reading communist books in jail, and that Daniels was a degenerate because he wore colored undershorts.

The jury deliberated 1 hour 29 minutes and found Coleman not guilty of manslaughter.

U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach tamely said at the time: "This kind of result is expected from time to time. ... This is the price you have to pay for the jury system, but I don't think it is too high a price." The Justice Department had not even sent an observer to the trial.

A year after the shooting, CBS correspondent John Hart returned to Lowndes and interviewed Coleman.

"I would shoot them both tomorrow," said Coleman. "I'd do the same as before."

The verdict was met with outrage on the nation's editorial pages. Martin Luther King eulogized Daniels for "one of the most heroic deeds of which I have heard."

It was a tragedy his life was cut short, said King, "but the meaning of his life was so fulfilled in his death that few people in our time will know such fulfillment or meaning though they live to be a hundred."

Those Who Remember

Tonight on the campus of Keene State College, they will gather to remember Daniels. Ruby Sales will be there; after Daniels saved her life, she went on to become a college professor, but eventually returned to dedicate her life to the work she and Daniels were doing. In Boston's public housing projects she taught adult women to read, and she is now the president of a new national organization called Black Women's Voices and Images, which works to build interracial coalitions.

Richard Morrisroe will be there, and Mark Oliver, and Keene State College filmmaker Lawrence Benaquist, who organized the event. Benaquist is filming a documentary on Daniels's life.

In "Selma, Lord, Selma," a 1980 book about the spring and summer of the Selma march, author Frank Sikora talked with Rachel West, then a 24-year-old Selma woman.

Rachel was 9 when Jonathan Daniels came to live with her family. The Wests were taking a big risk by having a white man live with them, but Daniels quickly became "a part of our family," she recalls. "In a way, he was a member of every black family in Selma, in those days.

"I remember one day after many of our people had been arrested and there was talk of more trouble before us, I was standing outside in the apartment yard watching some of the other children play. Jonathan saw me and came and knelt down beside me.

" 'Why aren't you playing with the others?' he asks.

"And I had shrugged. 'I don't know why.'

"So he stares at me very seriously and puts an arm around me. 'You afraid of something?'

"And I told him I was thinking about the sheriff's posse and some of the bad things that had been happening.

" 'You don't have to be afraid anymore,' he said. 'I'll watch you and make sure nothing or nobody bothers you. All right?'

"But I didn't know. So all of a sudden he picked me up and tossed me up in the air, spinning around and around. 'Now are you afraid?' he asked. And I started laughing then. He kept spinning around and throwing me up and catching me. Finally I yelled that I wasn't afraid, and he put me down."

She remembered the day Daniels died, and how she just stood in that yard and cried and cried.

"There were other children there. Some of them were crying too. I remember I kept looking across the yard and thinking I'd see him running toward us, laughing or smiling as he always did."