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First Person > Juanita Nelson

Juanita Nelson: Full Interview

portrait of Juanita Nelson

Interview Clip #1:
Juanita grows up and goes to school in Cleveland; her first action, her first arrest (04:54)

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My name is Juanita Nelson. I live in Deerfield, Massachusetts, up at Woolman Hill, which is a Quaker Conference Center; actually Friends, but we call it Quaker. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1923 and lived as I very often say in the outer slums of Cleveland. And, for instance, we didn't have our first telephone until I was seventeen and won a poetry contest, and I used the money for the first telephone my family had. I?was terrible-I liked school, and I didn't ever miss school until I was sixteen years old and I went with my mother to visit her parents in Georgia. That's where I guess I did my very first action, because our train was late for changing in Cincinnati and we were rushed into a car. By the time we got settled, I recalled, I looked around and saw that we were in a Jim Crow car. Now I'd heard of these things, and I knew about that sort of thing.

INTERVIEWER: Would you explain what a Jim Crow car is, for people who don't know?

This was at a time when all people who had darker-colored skin, or part dark African ancestry, were seated in a particular place and could not go anywhere else&mdash:in streetcars and so forth. In the South particularly they had fountains that said, "whites," "colored," all that sort of thing. It was a very much division in talking about races, which I don't like. I think there's one race anyway, as far as I'm concerned. So I asked my mother if we couldn't change cars and she said, "Oh Nita, I'm just tired." And I think that was true. And I sat and fumed, and finally I got up and sat in every car in that train because I was so upset, and my recollection&mdash:this was a long time ago, of course&mdash:is that nobody bothered me except the porter, and he was afraid that something would happen to me, because he had the same color skin that I had. Then I went back and sat by my Mother and I felt better because I had expressed myself. But, anyway, that was it. But I did go [to school]even though we were very poor, we were pretty well settled because I went to the same elementary school, all the way through, and the same junior high school and the same high school&mdash:senior high school.

And after I did that I had thought I wouldn't go to college even&mdash:my Mother wanted us all to go to college, and I didn't have any jobs, as poor as we were, much because she wanted us to be able to study and that sort of thing. I was in the Girl Scouts, which I would never do again, of course [chuckle], but one of the scout leaders had gone to Howard University in Washington, DC, which at that time was what we call an all-black, pretty much an all-black college, and I did apply for that and I got a scholarship, otherwise I couldn't have gone.

And so I did go to Howard University, and that was where I was arrested for the first time. I went with two of my friends who were undergrad coeds, downtown in Washington, DC, which was about as segregated as anyplace in the United States at that time. I went to Howard in 1941. This was in '43 though, at the beginning of the year, I think. And we went to a drugstore that had a lunch counter-asked for some hot chocolate. We were told, "We don't serve Negroes." We said, "Well, we'd like to see the manager." "The manager isn't in." And we said, "Well, we have plenty of time. We'll just sit here." And finally they brought the hot chocolate, but they gave us tickets, bills for 25 cents, when it clearly stated on the board that hot chocolate was ten cents a cup, so that's what we put down. And I always like to say that's probably all we had anyway. But, then we walked out and were met by-my recollection is-seven of DC's finest, that is, the police. And they put us in the paddy wagon and took us to jail.

Interview Clip #2:
Eating in jail; leaving Howard University; first job at a newspaper; meeting Wally; CORE ( 05:24)

Audio also available in MP3 format

At that time, I guess we were sort of hyped up. We thought this was a great lark: real life! We?ll get to eat with the real convicts, and so forth and so on. But the Dean of Women came and got us out before suppertime. And I always say that that saved me from ever eating in jail. I?ve been in jail a few times since then, and I?ve never eaten when I was in jail, but I would have eaten that time, [chuckle] and I?m sure the food wouldn?t have been very good anyway.

I left Howard after two years, partly because I felt my family couldn?t really keep me there, even though I had a scholarship; I had to buy books and travel once in a while to go back home and that sort of thing. And because we were in the midst of World War II, when I got back I was able–at nineteen&ndashI was able to get a job at a weekly newspaper for which I had written a column from Howard about students from Ohio who were at Howard. So I did that and&ndashlet's see, I can't remember how long I was there before those of us who were on the staff, who were reporters, wanted to start a chapter of the Newspaper Guild, and the publisher, the owner, said he would tear his building down brick by brick before he would allow a union, and he did fire all of us. But then he had to take us all back because&ndashI don?t know what the legislation was or whatever, but he had to take us back. And I stayed on for a while, and then I quit.

But the best thing that ever happened to me, being a reporter: that's where I met Wally&ndashhow I met Wally?who became my life partner. He was in prison, in jail at the time, in the Cuyahoga [Ohio] County Jail because he was a conscientious objector; that is, he would not go to war. And he signed up as a conscientious objector and was put in one of the camps, CO camps, called "civilian public service," although he called it "civilian public slavery." But he realized, soon after he got there that he should never have registered, period. He was there for about a year, and he, with five cohorts, walked out of CPS and went to Detroit and they started a service in a poor community and all that, but of course they were finally picked up. The reason I met him was that the sheriff asked our paper to send a reporter down. Well, two of us went down, and Wally and his friend who were there saw us pass through, escorted by the sheriff, and decided that, "Oh, they must be pretty important." So they had outside contacts, mostly Friends, Quakers, and they found out who we were. So they asked me to come down, and so I started visiting them. And I became a pacifist for sure. I was never not a pacifist; I wasn?t a warmonger or anything like that, but I just hadn't thought about it. And I shall never forget that, asking him, "Well, what would you do if...?" as people are always asking, "?if you were pretty sure someone was trying to kill you?? And he said, "I would try to protect myself by putting my hands over my head maybe, that sort of thing, but in the end I couldn't decide that my life was worth more than somebody else?s." And that really?I guess I was ready for it, and that really moved me. And that was a very life&ndashchanging thing for me.

I had already been involved in CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, that helped to start a chapter of CORE in Cleveland, along with a man named George Howser, who worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. That was a sort of a religious oriented organization, peace organization...I didn?t belong to, but we started the CORE group there and worked on an amusement park, tried to open it up, and had many adventures, and mis&ndashadventures. I guess I was chairman, and we used to meet at my house. When I went back to Cleveland, I lived back at home with my parents, and my mother was very interested particularly, and so?did a lot around that. ... Cleveland was no bastion of freedom&mdash"sometimes you couldn?t&ndashthere were theaters you couldn't go to; we tested restaurants, all that sort of thing. It wasn?t quite as blatant as it was in the south.

Interview Clip #3:
Getting called "nigger"; Wally's hunger strike in prison; getting to know Wally; "joining their fates"

Audio also available in MP3 format

I guess I remember very well, when I was, I think it was in junior high school, somebody called me "nigger." And I went home, crying, or anyway, very disconsolate. My mother said, "Why are you worrying about...you know who you are." So... [laugh] I've always appreciated that.

Well, anyway, so we worked on that. And then, I finally quit the newspaper. I had nothing I wanted to do with it anyway. And by that time I had decided I didn't want to be professional ever, and I haven't been, either–that I would do whatever job to keep body and soul together, that was good work, or at least not bad work, let's put it that way; at least wasn't bad work. And that I would just live my life and do the things that I believe in.

Well, Wally and his friend were in jail, by the way, because they had been offered the opportunity, in quotes, to go to federal prison while their case was on appeal. But they said, "We don't choose to serve." And you see, you have to sign something..."I choose to serve." They said "We are not choosing to serve," so they were there for a year, which time would not have counted on the five–year sentence they finally got that was upheld. But he was sent to prison, first to Milan, Michigan, and then to the prison in Connecticut, which is...now a women's prison, which is interesting. I corresponded with him; although interestingly enough I wrote to his friend because they could receive only seven letters a week each and they knew pretty much the same people. And I drew his friend Joe, and so we kept up a correspondence. And then when he was released after a total of thirty–three months, including the county jail and the federal prisons, he was on a hunger strike after a while. He said, "You've got me in jail; you're responsible for this, and I am not going to eat until I am on the other side of these walls." Well for eighteen days he didn't have any food, and then they started force–feeding him. I can't ever remember quite...I think altogether it was a total of at least 87 days, and that he...didn't eat for 18 days, and then was force–fed once a day, 'cause they wouldn't submit to any more of the—that's a long story so I won't go into that. The first time they tried to feed them, they held them down 'cause they...deliberately put tubes too big; it went through his nose down into stomach, esophagus, or whatever, however it is. And, so he lost a lot of weight, and then went to St. Paul to recuperate with a brother, who was a minister, and then came to Cleveland. And then, that's when we really got to know each other; you know, you don't know somebody when they're in prison, you know I mean [chuckle] how can you know them really? And I didn't even visit them, at that time either. But anyway, then in 1948–he was released in '46, I think it was, '46, '47–and in '48 we decided that we would join our fates and so, we became–what do they say these days, "an item"? ,em>[laugh]

And at that same time–maybe I should go back a little bit–about the civil rights thing. It turns out that Wally and I had both been involved in CORE. He had been in college in Ohio. That's how he happened to be in jail in Cleveland, because that was the state where the crime was committed, when he walked out of Coshocton CPS, and when he would go back to Chica–at that time he was living in Chicago. He was born in Arkansas, but he went back to Chicago and he would do some testing for CORE, which was started in the early, I think about '42, 1942.

Interview Clip #4:
Forming Howard University's "Civil Rights Committee"; "Opening" a restaurant; Juanita explains "opening" and "t

Audio also available in MP3 format

Then I had been involved in CORE. I was also involved when I was at Howard; I'd forgotten about that. After we had this incident that I was talking about, of trying to get the hot chocolate, a woman who became a very dear friend, Polly Murray, was there. She was about ten years older than us coeds. She was in law school, and she knew about CORE that had started. And we formed the Howard's—I think it was called "Civil Rights Committee" and actually opened up a restaurant on the edge of campus in one week, less than a week. I never had such a quick victory, [chuckle] never since that time. It was just a sort of a greasy spoon restaurant, but it was a heady victory for us. We had a picket line; we had a sit–in; lots of people agreed with us, and he capitulated.

INTERVIEWER: So, when you say you "opened up a restaurant..."

I mean we desegregated it. I always forget that; people don't know exactly what I mean. And so that was very good. So that happened before I left. I sometimes regretted having left Howard because they did some bus testing. Because you know, DC is surrounded—Virginia, Maryland and so forth, and they were all, of course, very segregated, too.

INTERVIEWER: Will you explain the concept of "testing"?

You try to do something. Like, for instance, if blacks were supposed to sit from the back, you would just go and get your ticket and sit in the front and see what happened. Most often, you'd just be arrested or that sort of thing.

So that's what they were doing. And meanwhile I was working in CORE in Cleveland though, when they were doing that, so I didn't get into that part of it.

Let's see, where was I when I digressed?

INTERVIEWER: You were working at CORE, you had just become an "item."

That's right and so we lived in—we didn't have any money—we lived in Cincinnati with a friend of Wally's who was a minister, and was doing some work on his church and Wally helped him do that. And then we moved into Cincinnati proper, and we ended up—that same year of 1948 when we began living together, a group called Peacemakers was formed. They saw nonviolence as a way of life, not just a tactic, or different campaigns, and one of the things that was a hallmark of Peacemakers was refusing to pay taxes for war, and so I say that that was a very pivotal year in my life, '48. Wally and I started living together; I became a tax refuser; we became tax refusers. You see, he spent thirty–three months in prison because he wouldn't go; how was he going to pay for somebody else to go and kill people? We just had no problem with that. So we always had to find work where there were no taxes, either be self–employed, or at that time I did say Wally was my dependent. He did odd jobs; he didn't sign anything—and so I could earn at that time, I think it was twelve—twenty–five dollars on any one job. So if I would've had two jobs, neither employer would take taxes out, but I made more than—I mean I made the taxable amount and said, "nyah, nyah, nyah...I'm not going to pay you." Our tax refusal included not filing, not for being secretive, but because we just didn't feel that we needed to do that, that we owed any allegiance to a system whose major business was killing. ?Cause most—about—at least half of the budget is for the military. It was then; it is now, continues to be. But we were very open. We...always demonstrated. For a while we wrote letters to our congress people and the president—that got boring, so I quit [chuckle] doing that. And so they knew it, because they would sometimes call us up and say, "We want your records," and so forth, or "You come down and see us," and we said, "Well, we're not interested in coming; if you want to see us you can come to our house, and we'll tell you ,em>why, we are refusing but won't give you any information." So, that went on throughout our lives, I guess for a long time.

Interview Clip #5:
GANO Peacemakers; living with the Bromleys; "the birds and the bees don't live together..."; Juanita goes back to college; Wal

Audio also available in MP3 format

And then finally—"Peacemakers also didn't believe in interest and private land, land to be private—land trusts and so forth, and community. For seven years we lived in community with another couple, just outside of Cincinnati, called GANO Peacemakers, G–A–N–O. That was the enclave where we lived. That was a very interesting thing because we knew that Cincinnati was very, very bigoted, in general. And so, Ernest and Marion Bromley, the couple with whom we lived, bought the house, and ... then, of course, we all moved in. And for a while I think it was fine because they thought we were the servants, and when they found out we weren't, there was pandemonium there.

We lived right across from the church. Once Wally and Ernest went over there. There was some kind of program, and those people were so nasty; they felt that they would really harm them. When they walked out, they didn't look back, but they heard one woman say, "Don't do it, don't do it." So we don't know just what—we never knew exactly what it was they said they shouldn't do. And there somebody said to us, "The birds and the bees don't live together; why should the blacks and the whites live together?" [chuckle] But things calmed down. One man was very nice; he came and played his autoharp for us, and so that was very nice. After a while we didn't have anymore trouble and got to know a few of the people, not many, but—and anyway that was a very interesting interlude. And as I said, I think we lived together for seven years.

And then Wally and I left because we decided we wanted to—I went back to school. When I was on the newspaper, I did go back to college and finish because I'm sort of compulsive. I don't know why I bothered. I went to Western Reserve and got a degree —working on the newspaper—got a degree in reporting, in journalism, which was kind of crazy. And then I—what my work was so often—I did all sorts of odd jobs when we were living in Cincinnati and so forth. I was at the Art Museum as a model for people who were painting and drawing; I worked at a historical society; I typed a lot of envelopes, and that got a little boring. So I decided to go back to school...ten years after I'd been in college and I went to Ohio State and got a degree in speech therapy, speech correction, thinking I could get part–time work doing that. It didn't work out all that well, but anyway, I did that. But it was after I got out, sometime after I got out, that we—well, one thing, Wally got spinal meningitis when I was in college, and I had never—I thought only kids got that and thought he was going to die. But because—it was only because a few years before there had been some drug that had been discovered that saved his life. And that was the only time we ever contacted the IRS because somebody had been out to the house where we lived with the Bromleys‚?"some agents, a couple of agents‚?"and we thought we ought to let them know that they might have been exposed to meningitis, so we did call them one time; that was the only time.

We had a friend who lived in Philadelphia, and he was doing what they called "interracial housing." Now Wally would never let anybody say that; he said, "Interracial, you mean, a monkey and a human being," et cetera, they might be different races. But anyway, Wally really was recuperating and this friend was a builder, and he said we could come and live in one of the houses he was working on, and Wally could do whatever he could, so that's how we got to Philadelphia, and we lived in a place called Powelton Village, which was known for being, supposedly, a diverse community near the University of Pennsylvania.

Interview Clip #6:
GANO Peacemakers; living with the Bromleys; "the birds and the bees don't live together..."; Juanita goes back to college; Wal

Audio also available in MP3 format

So we lived there, and of course I did other jobs that were just routine office things, different kinds of things. By that time Wally had become a salesman, because as a traveling—as a salesperson, a manufacturer's representative, you get your own money and then you're supposed to file, and so forth. He sold bookplates for the Antioch Bookplate Company. We knew Ernest Morgan who had started this, and he said it was a half–baked Socialist group. His father, Arthur Morgan, had been president of Antioch College for a while.

But anyway, Wally started doing that, and of course it was hard going at first. He had all of New England, but we made a living. We never made much money, but we never spent much. As a matter of fact, we used to lend money to friends sometimes [chuckle] because we so hated this interest thing anyway, that if somebody needed to buy a car—I don't mean we had tons of money—maybe a friend would, we would lend him some money, obviously at no interest. And the other thing is I don't like having money hanging around; what's the use of having it doing nothing? So [chuckle] that came in handy a little bit later, too.

So we lived there; I think we moved there in '58, 1958, I think. But before we could even get settled in Philadelphia, we got a call, "Would we go down to Georgia to Koinonia Farm?" which was an intentional community where people just put everything they had into the community. They were really being bombarded by the Ku Klux Klan because they had no barriers as to color. Their farm market was bombed and destroyed, and the kids were harassed on the buses. It was just terrible. They did finally get—there was one native black family that joined the group and, if things were bad before, it just worsened. It was so bad that the father of that family—it was a large family—was too afraid to stay there, so they left and went up to New Jersey where they had hoped to start another community. That didn't go, but they hoped to do that. And Clarence Jordan, [pronounced "Jerdan"]—that's the way you pronounce it in the south—Clarence Jordan, who had been the founder of Koinonia, asked if we would come down. That's the only time I've ever done anything because of color, because they didn't want those people to think that they had changed their thought, they made them change their minds about accepting all people. So we had been cheering them from afar, so we thought we had to go. So we were down there four months and there were about nine shootings into the community while we were there, but we were very fortunate. ,em>Nobody got hurt. It was amazing; it was absolutely amazing. That was quite an experience being down there in the Deep South, with all that going on.

What they finally did was set up a watch, put a light up on—the farm was on two sides of the road—and so they put a light up, and people would be on watch. They didn't want us to be on watch. They thought we'd be in more danger than other people, but we said, "Yeah, we wanted to be a part of it." So, we did, and I'll never forget that the first night we were out there, we were sitting in the car—there was a car parked there—and, you know, you could...cars going both ways, and a car came up behind us, was coming up, we could hear this...instinctively we ducked and immediately felt like fools for doing such a thing...[stutters] ?cause, as a matter of fact, that would be the most dangerous thing we can do. But we never knew whether there was anything. From then on, whenever we heard a car coming from behind, we'd get out of the car and stand under the light, which is, tactically and morally, for me, the best thing to do.

But that was quite an experience, ?cause I had never lived in the South. I said my parents were both from Georgia, and I had been there, but I had never lived in the South. And that was a rather harrowing experience. They stopped selling stuff to Koinonia, and so Wally would take—he said he never had seen a hundred dollar bill before—he'd take these hundred dollar bills and go up to far places and buy supplies for the farm and stuff. Then if that was discovered, he'd have to go further, and so on, but he was never, never really hurt.

Interview Clip #7:
Koinonia Farm and Clarence Jordan; talking about religion; moving to Ojo Caliente; Wally's on a plantation

Audio also available in MP3 format

INTERVIEWER: What were the years that you were there?

We were there—I think it was'58.

INTERVIEWER: And how do you spell the name of the place?

Koinonia is spelled K–O–I–N–O–N–I–A. It's a Greek word, and right now I can't think of what it means, but anyway it's a Greek word. Clarence was a Greek scholar, a Baptist minister. They... invited us to join the community, which surprised us ?cause neither of us was religiously oriented, although Wally had been very active in the Methodist church when he was growing up. But I was very touched by that, that we were asked to join, and also touched because Clarence said, as much as he was—you know, he wrote the Cotton Patch Bible of translates, for the New Testament, but I so much remember hearing him say, "Religion is a private thing; it's what you believe," and I've never heard, I'm sure, anybody who has something of a fundamentalist religion say something like that. And he was very, very funny. I know that during those days before we came down there, somebody came around, like some of the Ku Klux Klanners came around and, once they came and—?cause blacks worked on the farm even before anybody moved there, and so they would eat lunch together, and one of these guys came and said, "Preacher, I don't wanna see the sun set on you havin' niggers here anymore." And Clarence reached out his hand and said, "Well, I'm so glad to know you, I'm so glad to know somebody who can keep the sun from setting." He was funny. He died when he was 68, which was much too young, but of a heart attack.

Then we went back to Philadelphia after that and stayed there. Our house was the center of tax refusal. Meanwhile, I could tell—well, I'll just go ahead with this and then I'll tell some more.

It was in 1970 during the Viet Nam War. We were refusing to pay taxes; we were working in CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]; we were working with the great brokers, Cesar Chavez and those. Wally fasted for twenty–three days once in front of one of the big chain stores to try to get them to stop using, either grapes, or something, whatever it was that they were doing. And yet, we began to feel, and I in particular, that our whole lives were tied up in war stuff, because we live on this war system. I have something at my house now—somebody sent it; it says, "Peace would destroy civilization as we know it." And indeed it would, because we could not consume with, 5% of the population that we have, forty, fifty, whatever percent of the world's goods. And we have bases all over the world and so forth. So, anyway, I felt as though I wanted to remove myself to some greater extent from that system, and so we left and we ended up in New Mexico in a village of five hundred called Ojo Caliente, pretty much a Spanish–speaking place, where I had my first garden...started learning to....Wally had some experience at...

Wally actually lived—three years of his life, his family had lived on plantations because his father was a Methodist minister with a lot of kids—didn't make much money, and he wanted to farm and that was the only way he could do it. And that was another thing that formed Wally about this business that people are just people. For two years they worked on the plantation of a, in quotes, white man, and he had both blacks and whites. They lived separately, but treated them all the same, pitted them one against the other. As Wally would say, he'd ask the poor whites to do something and if they complained he'd say, "That's alright, I'll go and ask the niggers; I'll tell the niggers to do it," and vice–a–versa.

Interview Clip #8:
Wally's early years on a plantation, continued

Audio also available in MP3 format

The second year when his father went to settle up with Mr. Charlie—that's what they called all these bosses; I don't know whether that was really his name—and Mr. Charlie said, "Well, Preacher, you've got a fine family. You work hard," and all that, and then next, "You only owe me 500 dollars," and Wally's father said, "Wait a minute. According to my calculations, you owe me five hundred dollars," and Mr. Charlie said, "Wait a minute! I don't have niggers figuring after me," and he put'em off the plantation. Of course, Wally said, the kids were delighted [chuckle] ?cause they wanted to go back to Little Rock anyway. Then the next time they did the venture, they worked on a plantation owned by a black man, and he said it was the same thing. He didn't have any whites on his..., except that you could call him by his first name, but he was trying to get everything he could out of everybody. No different, no different. And that's something I believe, and it's discouraging; it really is discouraging, but people are people. Everybody seems to want to just wring everything they can out of people, and all of us do. This is society. [pause] I don't know, I've heard some figures—one percent of the population of the United States makes thirty times as much as a regular worker. And to say a worker is... that's like an epithet. The worker is the ones who keep the world going, so what's [laugh] I don't really quite understand that, but that's the way it seems to be.

We did go there and live there for three and a half years. We went in ?70 and left in ?74. We learned to love it. We were in northern New Mexico, not so far, at 6800 feet. We always liked New England, but we thought, "Oh, we're going to homestead, we need to be in a warm place‚?"ha, ha, ha." The climate, in a sense, was somewhat the same, in a different way. It would be, could be warm; it would get very warm. It was always cool at night. We couldn't even get ripe tomatoes. We had to pick them green because they wouldn't get ripe. They ripened all right after we picked them. And that's where I learned to can and dry things. We wanted to stay, but we found we didn't have enough money to buy land. We thought we would there, but it was too expensive, so that's how we ended up in New England.

We met somebody who came through who ended up himself at Woolman Hill when there was an alternative school there, and they did farming, did gardening and canning, and they had two cows and so forth. And Randy Kehler wrote to us and said, "Our farmer is leaving; would you like to do this?" Because when we met him, we said if we couldn't find anything within the next few months, we were going to come back east. And we said, "No, we don't want to be a farmer, even if we don't get paid—we want to homestead." And we ended up being able to do that. We came here in '74, took down a house; I took out millions of nails. We did all our work by hand. We didn't know anybody but Randy Kehler when we came here, and we got to know so many people, and so many people helped us. Some of ?em came to help, so we finally even put in an electric line over to Traprock so that people who had Skilsaws and all that sort of thing could work. And our house...we lived pretty much the same, I lived pretty much the same as we did... well, I don't know how you could compare that, but...In New Mexico we had an outhouse‚?"we had a designer outhouse because an architect friend of ours visited us and designed the outhouse. ,em>[chuckle] We lived in an adobe that had 18–inch thick walls. Our landlady lived down about a quarter of a mile down the road from us.

Interview Clip #9:
Life in New England; eating locally; tax refusal; the "lines" between people

Audio also available in MP3 format

We drew our water up by hand. We had electricity there because I think in the ?30's, there was some kind of program there to electrify rural places, so we had a light bulb in each room, something like that. And so, that was an extraordinary experience. I've never had a... we've never had a garden so beautiful as that one—"everything germinated. ?Cause you had to have irrigation anyway, but it was not the kind that you have here where you use electricity and pump; I guess it was something electric, intermediately, but it was a system that had been built several hundred years before; the water came from the mountains when the snow melted, and then you would have water in to your plot. People had certain times, but because our garden was so small, anytime the water passed we could open up our gate and irrigate.

Then we came here. And here we have an outhouse, which we probably wouldn't be able to get permission to have now, and we built our house from salvaged material. We used kerosene lamps for a while, and now I have two gaslights. What else do we do? We grow most of our food; I don't buy stuff that's imported, except I have to buy oil. But there are so many things here that you can buy: eggs, local eggs; you can buy cheese, there's cheese that's made here; there's pickles, sauerkraut—although I make my own sauerkraut. I make sauerkraut. I can a lot of things; I dry things, and so I have plenty to eat. I just eat differently maybe from other people. My winter salad is, say for instance, pickled beets and sauerkraut—it's wonderful together. And I've discovered making parsnip salad in the spring because parsnips can stay in the ground; and once the ground thaws you can pick them. And I grate them, and put some oil on them. And then if you have had parsley, it comes back for a while—put a lot of parsley in it... absolutely delicious.

Wally has never been anywhere where he hasn't started a tax refusal group and he started that, and so we've had a pretty vital one. Right now it's in sort of a quasi–dormant state. I mean it goes up and down, and a lot of people here have, relatively—obviously it's not a very big movement; I wish it could be. That's the only way you can stop war, stop participating in it, and stop so much consumption that requires war, at least that's the way I look at it.

INTERVIEWER: Could I ask you to back up and talk about—now I hesitate to use this word—but talk about the Viet Nam War, related to race relations? I hesitate to use that word after all you've said, but just—what relationships were like during the Viet Nam War between black people and white people.

Here, in the states?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, just in your experience.

I don't know; I guess maybe I'm atypical, but I know that the groups I work in—for instance, CORE had no color line, and Peacemakers had no color line—didn't have any age line either. For a while I think I was about the youngest person in Peacemakers, and I felt very close to somebody who was in her 80s, and...even now, I don't feel that age difference. I mean, I'm getting older; I know that. But I have friends who are one–third my age, one–fourth my age, and we're just on the same‚?"boundary. So I don't really know that—I really couldn't tell you much about that, because, or couldn't speak much to that. I think most of the people who were people who were against the war, or in a very active way, and I don't mean just saying it, but doing something, didn't have those kinds of barriers, weren't divided into that... Now in the general population, I honestly don't know.

Interview Clip #10:
Being arrested and incarcerated at a Coney Island, Ohio, amusement park; trying to eat lunch in a truck stop

Audio also available in MP3 format

I could mention some very interesting episodes of why we were incarcerated. For instance, when Wally was a sales—I guess the second time—the first time I was arrested, as I said, was in D.C.—the second time was in Cincinnati because we started—the Bromleys and us and a wonderful man named Maurice McCracken—he was a minister who was in Cincinnati before we were, started a CORE, a Cincinnati Committee on Human Relations, which was affiliated with CORE; although we didn't call ourselves CORE, it was a CORE group. And that was the second time I was incarcerated, arrested, because of working on an amusement park. It seems as though two things, two amusement parks—and I never liked amusement parks—but what we did first was open up the two music schools and we got through that and we thought that we wanted to go to something that was more universal, because how many people are going to go to music schools? So we started this Coney Island, it was Coney Island in the Cincinnati area, not the New York Coney Island. And once when we were standing there; well, I guess they would say "obstructing the gate," waiting for entrance; we were arrested. And Wally, Marion, and I—three of our four adults in the house—were arrested, along with another man. And by that time the Bromleys had three kids, including a baby. So we were arrested and we did not cooperate; they had to carry us to the car, and take us out and so forth. And it was hot; it was in the middle of the summer. We were put on the top floor of the Hamilton County Jail. And it was hot—so hot that Marion, who was not the most robust person, fainted at one point, and they took us both then to the hospital. We weren't eating, guess we weren't eating, and then they brought us back, and we had no idea how long we'd be there. But, after nine days they took us out to trial, and sentenced us to time served. This has been my experience for the most part.

Perhaps the most interesting thing—there were two—we were arrested on our way to Woolman Hill, to tell you the truth. But things that were not premeditated, you know, just happened because we were who we are. When Wally was a salesperson, and we were living in Philadelphia, and a friend of ours was a tax refuser, and was [an] elderly man, had Social Security and so forth. His Social Security was being taken—something was being taken from his Social Security check, for taxes they said he owed. And he had gone to Washington to protest, and in the process had been sent to, I think it's St. Mary's, whatever the psych ward is in the hospital—we went to support him. There were four of us; a friend came from Chicago. On our way back, on Route 40, which we very well knew was completely segregated—even African diplomats couldn't find any place to eat or sleep on Route 40. But we'd packed a lunch, which we'd forgotten—but that was only because we were poor. We needed to pack the lunch, and I remember that I was driving. You know, Washington isn't that far from Philadelphia, and our friend Sis, who was living with us at the time, said she was hungry. And so I saw this truck stop, and I had heard that truck stops—you get a good portion of food, and it's pretty good and it's not all that expensive—so we stopped there, and to this day, I don't know why we didn't think about it. I think, for me, it was a good thing that we weren't thinking about what might happen, ?cause it just wasn't in my mind. We just said, "I'm getting something to eat." And so we went into the Bar H Restaurant, Bar H Truck Stop, and sat at the table, and then were startled when the waitress came and said, "We don't serve colored." And we thought, oh my god, we're fifty miles from home—we wanna go home,; we don't wanna have a big deal. So, we're not gonna fight this thing. We're just gonna sit here for twenty minutes, half hour, just to show that we don't approve of this.

Interview Clip #11:
: Being arrested at a truck stop in Elkton, Maryland; a hunger strike in jail

Audio also available in MP3 format

Well, we were within no more than five minutes of leaving when two policemen came. They had sent the dishwasher down to the police barracks, that was about a mile down the road, and they came and said, you know...very officious, "Show me your..." I've forgotten; they asked some question, and we looked at each other, rolled our eyes, and answered, and then [they] said, "Show me your driver's license." And reluctantly, the three of them did, and I was going to do it, I'm sure, but I said, "I want to ask you a question." "Ahp...Show me your license." And I said it again. They arrested me. And people always want to know, what were you going to ask, and I really don't know. I think I was really stalling because it hurt me so much to comply with this. Then I didn't cooperate; they carried me out to the police car, and the others followed in our car. This was in Elkton, Maryland; I shall never forget it. They stopped the car in front of the jail and told me to get out. "Am I going home?" "No." "Well then I'm not going to get out." So they put something—I think they call them "twisters"—they're handcuffs, but they have little points in them and they twisted them, and I hollered. It hurt. The others came over to complain and they arrested them. All four of us were arrested in Elkton, Maryland, carried up to the jail; they tried to fingerprint us, we wouldn't—so they would move us from one place to another, and open our fingers and do that sort of thing. They took us to jail—I mean to court—twice, and we would not cooperate. I mean, we didn't take part in.—and they would take us back. We were only fifty miles from Philadelphia. So you get one call, so we called, and they started the Robinson–Nelson Committee. People would come down and demonstrate and so on. They took us back to jail each time, twice, because we wouldn't participate, and then, we were not eating, and they permitted some people to come in to see us. It was in all the papers and stuff because Route 40 was quite something; it was notorious. Then on the twelfth day, they took us out of the cells, they put us in the police car and they started driving. And when we were out some ways, and tried to find out what we were going to, they were taking us to Crownsville Mental Hospital. And we thought, "Oh my Lord, they'll bury us there and nobody will ever know where we are." So we got to Crownsville and the director of the place—his first name was Charles; he's been dead for some years now—I shall never forget him, but I can't remember his last name. But, he came out, and he knew about the case, and he was so gentle. He had wheelchairs come out and take us into the jail—I mean into the facility—and we were given rooms, and we had unlimited visitors. First of all that night we talked long into the night. He said, "Of course there's nothing wrong with you, but I'll keep you for a little while." And so we could have all the visitors we want, and we had ice–cold water. The psychiatrist was upset with us. He had been in Germany during the Holocaust. And he said, "You're killing yourselves because you're not eating, and you should eat." But after two days Charles said, "I really can't justify keeping you anymore, but I'll ask you one thing. Would you please—I don't want to disturb the patients—so would you please not have them come in here and carry you out." So we walked to the front door and then we sat down, and of course they came and took us back to jail. So let's see, that was [pause] they took us back; they took us back to jail. And then in a couple of days they took us back to court and they proceeded with jury trials for each one of us. They had to go out on the street and find some more jurors because they didn't have enough people.

Interview Clip #12:
Being sentenced to time served; Wally goes back to his sales job

Audio also available in MP3 format

And I never remember what it was—like disorderly—disobeying an officer, or something like that, because we were all found guilty. But then it was the end of the day, and I thought—oh, and sentenced us to time served for that. But there was another charge against me because I had been the recalcitrant one who had said, "I want to ask you something." So there was something else, another charge against me. And I thought, "Oh my god, I'll have to stay in over the weekend."

But they never bothered with that; they just let us go, and I was very glad about that. But I guess the aftermath of that is that Wally was supposed to have been back on the road by that time because I guess ?cause—well anyway, he was supposed to have been back on the road. But anyhow, we got so many letters from people—his customers—he called on bookstores and all that sort of thing. And, Ernest had said our salesman is in jail, and explaining what it was, and one man even wrote and said—he lived in Connecticut actually—that he would take Mr. Nelson's route; he had just seen him once. Their paths crossed when they went to some particular venue at one time, like a bookstore or something—and "I'll, you can charge it all to—anything that I sell for him—to his account; I don't want anything." And a sidelight on that was that I always wished that I could thank him, and I happened to be looking at some things, some old things we had since we've been here, and this is since Wally died in '02, and I called. I had no idea whether it would be the same thing. I called, and he had died the year before; his wife answered. I was so sorry that I hadn't been able to thank him for that. And Wally said when he went back on his route, he could never—everybody wanted to know about it, and this and that and the other, and [chuckle] Ernest said, "Do it again, that's the best publicity we ever had." [chuckle] But we didn't do that again.

INTERVIEWER: Well, that's great.

So I think I'll quit; I'm gonna quit there.

 

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