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Tue, 10.15.1895

William Stuart Nelson, Activist born

William Stuart Nelson

*William Stuart Nelson was born on this date in 1895.  He was a Black theologian and human rights activist.

William Nelson was born in Paris, Kentucky, and graduated from Lincoln High School in Paducah, KY. He served in World War I and went on to receive his BA from Howard University in 1920. After attending schools in France and Germany, he received a BD from Yale (1924) and returned to Howard to teach. In 1931 he became the first black president of Shaw University and, later, the first president of Dillard University.

He finished his career at the Howard School of Religion, as dean of the university and vice president of special projects. An internationally known expert on non-violence, William Stuart Nelson corresponded regularly with Martin Luther King. Nelson made several trips to India. In 1946, while visiting as a representative of the American Friends Service Committee, he marched with Mohandas Gandhi through Bengal to help reconcile the Hindu and Muslim communities. When Nelson sent him his 1958 article "Satyagraha: Gandhian Principles of Nonviolent Non-Cooperation," King wrote that it was "one of the best and most balanced analyses of the Gandhian principles of nonviolent, noncooperation that I have read."

He returned to India in 1958 as a Fulbright scholar but could not stay long enough to accompany King on his trip there in 1959. Nelson was active throughout the 20th-century American Civil Rights movement, speaking at the 1959 Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change and the 1962 convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and joining the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. He remained a member of various peace, religious, and educational groups until his death on March 26, 1977.

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