Ruby Nell Sales is an African-American social activist. She attended local segregated schools and was also educated in the community during the 1960s era of the Civil Rights Movement. She has been described as a “legendary civil rights activist” by the PBS program “Religion and Ethics Weekly.”
Sales participated, at the age of 17, in the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. That year she was arrested in August with some fellow activists in Fort Deposit in Lowndes County, where they were picketing a whites-only store. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had prohibited such segregation. They were taken to the county seat of Hayneville and jailed for six days. After being released, she and a few others went to purchase sodas at a nearby store. She was threatened by a shotgun-wielding construction worker, Tom Coleman, who was a special county deputy. One of Sales’ fellow marchers, Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian, pushed her out of the way and took the shot meant for her, dying instantly.
Traumatized by Daniels’ murder, she nearly lost the ability to speak for the next seven months. Despite death threats made to her and her family, Sales resolved to testify at Tom Coleman’s trial. He was acquitted by a jury of 12 white men. The result of the trial led to legal challenges and a reform of the jury selection procedures, which had long excluded blacks, first because they were disenfranchised from voting before 1965, then because of a discriminatory process in developing the jury pool.
Sales went on to attend Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, successor institution to the seminary Daniels had attended. She has worked as a human rights advocate in Washington, D.C. where she founded The SpiritHouse Project, a non-profit organization and inner-city mission dedicated to Daniels.