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First Person > Juanita Nelson

Juanita Nelson - 1957: A Season in the South

Life at Koinonia Farm, an intentional Christian community located in southwest Georgia



Juanita and Wally Nelson moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1948. That same year they joined Peacemakers, an organization dedicated to nonviolence. They were also actively involved in CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. While in Cincinnati they lived in community with Ernest and Marion Bromley who were also members of Peacemakers. In 1957, they were about to move to an “interracial housing” community in Philadelphia when, as Juanita recalls, “we got a call, ‘Would we go down to Georgia, to Koinonia Farm...’”

Learn more about Juanita Nelson: View a timeline of her life and listen to her full interview.



file:/activities/oralhistory/cappics/nelson1957_picking, alt: men and women working in the fields at Koinonia Farm

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Koinonia Farm community members together at work. In a letter to President Eisenhower, written in 1957 shortly before the Nelsons" moved to Koinonia farm, Clarence Jordan [pronounced "Jerden"] described the community:

We are a religious group made up of citizens from various parts of the Union who have come together out of a desire to dedicate ourselves completely to the way of love as taught by Jesus Christ. Begun in 1942, the community now owns 1100 acres of land in Sumter County, Georgia. We make our living by farming, having no connection with any outside agency. We have sought to live simply and humbly and in a law–;abiding manner. We welcome into our fellowship any person of any color or race.

Through this letter, which can be read in its entirety by following the link below, Clarence Jordan requested the President's intervention because his community was facing increased economic, legal, and violent opposition from White Citizens' Councils. Koinonia Farm is still in existence today.

Photograph courtesy of Koinonia Farm.

file:/activities/oralhistory/cappics/nelson1957_jordan, alt: portrait of Clarence Jordan

Portrait of Baptist Minister Clarence Jordan, a cofounder of Koinonia Farm. He is well-known for having written colloquial translations of the New Testament into what he called "Cotton Patch" Gospels. Juanita Nelson recalls of Clarence Jordan, "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."

Photograph courtesy of Koinonia Farm.

Story Clip #1:

Juanita and Wally move to Koinonia Farm and are faced with the Ku Klux Klan

Wait for each file to download, then click the arrow to play the audio.

Audio also available in MP3 format

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. 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. And 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.

Story Clip #2:

Juanita remembers Clarence Jordan, a cofounder of Koinonia Farm

Audio also available in MP3 format

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. And actually they asked us to join the communi – 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.



Related Resources

About Koinonia Farm

 

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