GREENFIELD - Juanita (Morrow) Nelson, 91, died peacefully Monday, March 9, 2015, following a period of declining health at Poet's Seat Health Care Center in Greenfield.
Heralded as a lifelong activist and pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement and the organic farming and simple living movements, Juanita was born Aug. 17, 1923, in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Eula Jean (Middlebrooks) Morrow and Oscar Morrow, Sr.
Juanita graduated in 1941 from Cleveland's Central High School and attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. She served as secretary of the university's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and experienced her first arrest for civil disobedience while protesting lunch counter segregation in our nation's capitol. In 1943, she enrolled in Western Reserve University, majoring in journalism and worked as a reporter for the Cleveland Call and Post. In that role, she met her lifelong partner, Wally Nelson, while working on a story about segregated conditions in the jail in which Wally was awaiting trial as a conscientious objector.
Juanita worked with Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) on both local and national levels. In 1948, Wally and Juanita refused to pay taxes for war and military preparations and helped found Peacemakers, a pacifist group that took its name from the biblical Beatitudes: "Blessed are the peacemakers…." The group advocated non-payment of federal war taxes, non-registration for the military draft, and the promotion of non-violence in all areas of life.
In 1950, the Nelsons became part of an integrated household in Cincinnati, Ohio, which led to tensions within a neighborhood where segregation was the norm. In 1955, Juanita earned a degree in speech pathology from Ohio State University, motivated by the fact that this would allow her to work on a contractual basis without withholding taxes.
The Nelsons moved to Philadelphia, in 1956 and lived in Powelton Village, a culturally diverse and historic neighborhood. They spent four months at Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, which had come under attack for refusal to discriminate based on skin color. Shots were fired into the community during the Nelsons' stay. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Juanita was arrested several times due to activities connected with tax resistance and civil rights protests.
With Wally, Juanita began her farming life in 1970 when they moved to Ojo Caliente in northern New Mexico. Fueled by a desire to live more simply in the face of U.S. war in Vietnam and to be less involved in the economic milieu that spawns war, they made their living by growing and selling produce and attempting to become as self-sufficient as possible. They learned to heat and cook with wood, preserve food, and make their own soap.
Their 1974 move to Woolman Hill, site of a Quaker conference center in Deerfield, brought the Nelsons to the Pioneer Valley, where they became mentors to many people, young and old. Granted lifetime use of a small plot of land, the Nelsons built a compact home with no electricity or running water and received permission from the town to build an outhouse.
Juanita authored many articles and poems, as well as the 1988 book, A Matter of Freedom. She and Wally helped found the Valley Community Land Trust, Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters, and the Greenfield Farmers' Market. After Wally's death in 2002, Juanita hatched the idea for the Free Harvest Supper, held in Greenfield, which has become a major community event in late August of each year.
A longtime advocate of local food, Juanita challenged attendees at the 2006 Free Harvest Supper to eat locally, not just when it was convenient but year round. This challenge spawned Winter Fare, the first winter farmers market in Massachusetts. The idea soon spread throughout the Commonwealth.
For the last several years, Juanita lived with a series of close friends, including Eveline MacDougall, Ellie Kastanopolous and most recently, Betsy Corner, Randy Kehler and Kip Moeller.
Juanita was predeceased by her partner Wally Nelson and her brothers Charles Morrow and Oscar Morrow, Jr. She is survived by many nieces, nephews, and cousins in Ohio, and by a large national and international family of friends and fellow travelers. She will be sorely missed by many.
End of life arrangements are being handled by the Eternal Blessings Cremation Service in Guilford, Vermont.
Memorial donations may be sent to the Valley Community Land Trust, P.O. Box 1552, Greenfield, MA 01302, and to the Wally and Juanita Nelson Scholarship Fund at Greenfield Community College, c/o GCC Foundation, 270 Main St., Greenfield, MA 01301.
There will be a gathering to celebrate Juanita's life later this spring, at a place and time to be announced.
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