As remembered by Penny Patch
February 8, 2018
Mrs Rosa Mae Nelson passed away this morning. She was 93 and had broken her leg falling some weeks ago. She was not famous in the movement years, except in her immediate family and in her community, nor was she famous later in life. But she was beloved and deeply respected. Mrs Nelson and her husband Roland Nelson were movement leaders on the Hays Plantation in Panola County, MS where they sharecropped, and subsequently led the campaign to get people to register to vote, as well as to elect Black people to the Federal Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Services (ASCS) committee.
Chris Williams and I (and other SNCC/COFO folks) worked on those campaigns and often visited the Nelsons where meetings were held (usually at night) on that plantation. Mr Nelson was of course the more identified leader. Mrs Nelson took care of six children, took care of us, and organized the women. Her daughter, Ruth Nelson Longstreet Lee, at age 10, integrated the Panola County schools with her young brothers. Ruth describes fighting back when she and her brothers were attacked on the school bus, and it worked. So much for nonviolence.
I was blessed to be in touch mostly by phone with Mrs Rosa Nelson over many decades. Her lioness heart, her sharp mind, and sense of humor strengthened me as she did so many.
As remembered by Eugene Turitz
February 8 2018
Thanks Penny for sending the news of Mrs Nelson. In the short period of time in Panola I think that we did spend hours with the Nelsons. I have many memories of the home on the Hays plantation and of us looking for where it was when we visited a few years ago. I remember talking with Roland Nelson both about the organizing work as well as the laboring on the plantation and also talking about experiences up north I think in the packing industry.
I have probably mentioned, many times, what for me was an important incident at the Nelson home One night a few of us were there, with the windows covered, shelling peas and watching the TV. A report came on about the uprising of people in Watts, California. After seeing this Mrs Nelson said, with great sadness, how badly she felt for the people of Watts who did not have gardens for vegetables, cows and pigs for meat and milk, and chickens for eggs, as she did.
One of the things that stood out, for me, was that here we were in this "shack", with wooden floorboards and open space between some of them so that you saw the ground, watching the TV with adds for Johnsons Floor Wax so that your linoleum could sparkle and Mrs Nelson felt sorry for the people of Watts. For those people, whose floors were covered with old, cracked linoleum, that other world of shiny floors was so close yet impossibly far away. For the Nelsons, in their situation, they understood the fight in which they needed to be. For me it was one of the important lessons that I was learning at that time.
So lots of love to you all and keep the strengths that we learned from being in that fight.
As remembered by David "Dave"
February 8, 2018
Thanks for remembering and sharing. So many people, like Mr. and Mrs. Nelson, stood up and took heroic positions in the movement and protected us and showed us how to do it. They were there before SNCC, CORE and SCLC and were there when everyone else. The world need to know these people and the roles they played. We need to share these stories. I hope that more veterans of the Civil Rights Movement remember and share the stories of the unrecognized veterans.
As remembered by Joyce Ladner
She was the footsoldier on whose back the movement was carried. ¡Presente!