Juanita Nelson oral history

Juanita Nelson (1923-2015) was a war tax resister, a participant in the Civil Rights Struggle, and a back-to-the-lander. I just found a great oral history interview with her on the website for Massachusetts Department of Higher Education website.

One of the reasons I’m interested in Juanita Nelson is that she had no particular religious leanings one way or another; as she put it, she was not “religiously oriented.” And she was this way long before it was cool to be a None (i.e., to have no particular religious affiliation). Yet much of her life was spent seeking out and building intentional community, and spent in pursuing the highest moral and ethical values — and in that sense, she was what I’d call religious. She was also “religion-adjacent,” in part because she spent the last half of her life homesteading on land provided by a Quaker retreat center, and in part because so many war tax resisters are members of the historic peace churches.

Another reason I’m interested in her is that she’s a fascinating person in her own right. Someone should write a full-length biography of her — I’d buy it!

You don’t gotta

We walked through the Nelson Homestead at Woolman Hill Conference Center. This is where Wally and Juanita Nelson lived the last couple of decades of their lives — off the grid, growing their own food, refusing to pay taxes that funded the war machine of the United States. Carol remembers Wally and Jaunita Nelson coming to the annual conferences of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Massachusetts, back when she served on the NOFA Mass board, but she had no idea that they had both been civil rights activists and peacemakers.

Both of us liked the sign that Wally Nelson used to carry at demonstrations and rallies. The message is simple, but it makes you think: “You Don’t Gotta.”

Handmade sign reading "You Don't Gotta."