On October 5, 2017 Judy Nevels attended the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) meeting in Columbus, which celebrated her mother’s and sister’s induction into the Commission’s Hall of Fame.
They were part of what has come to been called “The Marching Mothers” of Hillsboro.
Back in 1955-56 they were protesting the segregation of African American children in Lincoln grade school in Hillsboro. At the same time there were two other schools in Hillsboro for white grade-school children and they were in much better condition than Lincoln School.
In a blurb on the OCRC web site the following appears: “Under the leadership of activist Imogene Curtis, this group of mothers began a daily march with children to Webster School only to be turned away at the door. This went on every weekday for two years. Dozens of black families pulled their children out of Lincoln School and relied on Quaker women from neighboring communities [Clinton County] to come and homeschool the children. Crosses were burned, mothers who worked in white homes had their jobs threatened, yet the mothers and their children persevered. Eventually the legal battle ended in the Supreme Court with a victory for the ‘Marching Mothers’ and school integration. In the fall of 1956, Hillsboro Elementary opened for the first time as an integrated school.”
Judy Nevels was in the integrated Hillsboro middle school in 1955-56 when the Marching Mothers (and children) were boycotting the segregated Lincoln School. She subsequently did not accompany her mother and sister on the two-year daily treks to Webster School.
Her recollections about that time are somewhat cloudy, but one thing that sticks in her memory is the fact that in some subjects she was not as prepared as other students.
In 1961 Judy married Sam Nevels, whose parents (Mary and Andrew) had moved to Wilmington from Newburn, Alabama in 1950. They had six sons and two daughters.
In the 1950s they formed the Nevels & Sons Painting Remodeling and Building company with his oldest four sons. The business was very successful.
As an example, in the community efforts to spruce up the town, three photos of Nevels & Sons Company appear on page 1 in a 1975 News Journal, painting buildings in the central part of our city — Murphy-Benham Hardware, Farquhar Grocery (at the corner of North South and Locust) and Hiatt Jewelers. (For you newcomers, these three stores are on South Street between Main and Locust).
The family business also built many local houses and apartments.
At about the same time that the above photos appeared in our newspaper, the following ad appeared in bold print on page 14 of July 2, 1975: “NEVELS GARDEN: Cabbage, peppers, onions, tomatoes, flowers. Nite crawlers and redworms for sale. North Wood Street.”
This referred to a business that Mary Nevels initiated in her back yard. Beyond the worms and vegetables, she also sold chinchillas and guinea pigs.
After a varied life of work, Judy (Clemens) Nevels, now retired, manages some rental houses and keeps busy volunteering. She has been, and continues to be, active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church as musician, especially as a pianist.
She worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for several years, at the Sears Catalog Store in Wilmington from 1964 to 1972 and at Wilmington College from 1972 to 1986, as well as with Movent Realty in Blanchester and Xenia.
The Nevels family is one of those families that makes a community work by contributing in a plethora of ways, by providing needed services, volunteering in appropriate ways and being good neighbors.
There is not much more a community could ask of its members!
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.