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Wallace Floyd Nelson (27 March 1909 – 23 May 2002) was an American civil rights activist and war tax resister. He spent three and a half years in prison as a conscientious objector during World War II, was on the first of the "freedom rides" (then called the "Journey of Reconciliation") enforcing desegregation in 1947, and was the first national field organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality.
In 1948, he began his lifelong relationship with Juanita, and together, they began engaging in war tax resistance. They spent a few months at the Koinonia Farm in 1957 and continued to work with that project for the next decade. Over time, the Nelsons came to adopt the income-reduction method of war tax refusal. They cut their expenses dramatically — building a house with salvaged materials and without electricity or plumbing, and growing the majority of their own food on a half-acre of land. Eventually they came to live on less than $5,000 per year.
For their role as civil rights activists, they received the Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts. Wally & Juanita were also founding members of the Valley Community Land Trust in western Massachusetts. A no-interest loan fund is now held by the trust in Wally's memory. Wally Nelson died at the age of 93 after more than a half-century of war tax resistance and activism.
Wally Nelson was born on March 27, 1909 to Lydia and Duncan Nelson. He was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was a younger son in a larger Family of sharecroppers, this began to shape some of Nelson's values. Later, he went north to join his brother's, working odd-jobs, and trying to get a higher education. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University.
Wally Nelson was thoroughly committed to nonviolence as a way of life and therefore refused to bear arms in World War II. As a conscientious objector he was given the choice to serve in a camp for Civilian Public Service (he referred to it as "civilian public slavery"). Immediately after beginning at the camp he realized it was a mistake, as he did not want to co-operate with the war effort by working for the government on the home front. After a year at the labor camp he left. For choosing to leave he was given a lengthy jail sentence. He served three and a half years in a federal prison. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Juanita. She came to Cuyahoga County Jail as a reporter, working on a story on jail conditions. He and his cell mate asked to meet her and after that they kept in touch through the mail.
Toward the end of his jailing, he went on a hunger strike, saying "You've got me in jail; you're responsible for this, and I'm not going to eat until I am on the other side of these walls". During this hunger strike he went for eighteen days without eating anything at all. After this, they started to force feed him. The first time that the guards force fed him, they purposefully made the tubes too large, making this process torturous for Nelson. The tubes went through his nose and directly into his stomach. After this event, Nelson had to be hospitalized for his injuries. It had made him very sick, and he lost a lot of weight. The force feedings went on for a total of some 87 days, until Nelson was finally released from prison.
Nelson Participated in the first Freedom Ride (then referred to as the Journey of Reconciliation) in which people purposefully rode in the "wrong" seats (blacks in the front, whites in the back) in 1947. He rode with a number of notable Freedom Riders such including James Peck, Igal Roodenko, and George Houser. All of the participants were men, because they did not want women to be included as they thought the idea of black men being with white women would be cause too much outrage and be too dangerous. Many of the men who took part in the original Freedom Ride were men who had also been imprisoned for being Conscientious Objectors and refusing to work in the labor camps.
In 1948, Nelson cofounded the Peacemakers. This was a national organization dedicated to active non-violence as a way of life. He and his wife Juanita began their practice of refusing to pay taxes used for armaments and killing, they did this for the rest of their lives. They did so alongside civil rights activist Eroseanna Robinson, who worked on both desegregation and the war protest movement. The three were dubbed the "Elkton Three" after they were arrested together while trying to integrate a restaurant in Maryland.
In the early 1950s Nelson served as the first national field officer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). For this job he directed many workshops on non-violent direct action in Washington D.C.
In 1968, he fasted once again, for 21 days, this time in support of the United Farm Workers campaign for just wages and working conditions for Farm Laborers.
He and his Juanita moved to Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1974 and started an organic vegetable farm. During this time they were some of the founders of such things as the Valley Community Land Trust, the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters, and the Greenfield Farmer's Market.
He annually participated in the war-tax protest in front of the Greenfield Post office on Tax day.
Nelson Died on May 23, 2002 in Greenfield, Massachusetts at the age of 93.
- “Juanita Nelson” Koinonia Partners
- The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award Archived 2003-01-03 at the Wayback Machine
- Wood, John W., III. "Wally and Juanita Nelson and the Struggle for Peace, Equality, and Social Justice: 1935-1975." Diss. Morgan State U, 2008. ProQuest Dissertation Publishing. Web. 9 Apr. 2017., p. 204-210."