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*Wallace F. "Wally" Nelson was born on this date in 1909. He was an African American civil rights and peace activist.
Raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, he was the son of Lydia (Durand) and Duncan Nelson. During his youth, Nelson and his family were sharecroppers, which was an experience that shaped some of his values. Nelson was a regional Church youth director and he attended Ohio Wesleyan University. As a committed advocate of active nonviolence, he refused to bear arms during World War II and served in a Civilian Public Service camp, followed by three and a half years in federal prison.
While locked up, he played a major role in ending racial segregation as the authorized policy of the federal prison system. In 1947, he participated in the first interracial "Freedom Ride," traveling by bus through the Southern states to test the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision banning racial segregation in interstate transportation. One year later, he co-founded Peacemakers, a national organization dedicated to active nonviolence as a way of life and he and his wife, Juanita, began their lifelong practice of refusing to pay taxes used for armaments and killing.
During the early 1950’s, as the first national field organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), he directed numerous workshops on nonviolent direct action in Washington, D.C. In 1968, he fasted for 21 days in support of the United Farm Workers’ campaign for just wages and working conditions for farm laborers. In 1974, he moved to Deerfield (Mass.) where he started an organic vegetable farm. During this time, he and his family were among the founders of the Valley Community Land Trust, Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters, and the Greenfield Farmers’ Market.
He was a regular participant in the annual war-tax protest in front of the Greenfield Post Office on Tax Day. Wally Nelson died on May 23, 2002, in Greenfield, Massachusetts at age 93.
Traprock Peace Center
103A Keets Road, Deerfield, MA 01342