Hector Neil Black

BlackHector Neil Black, 95, on August 8, 2020, at home in Cookeville, Tenn., surrounded by family. Hector was born on February 12, 1925, to David Graham Black and Agnes Williard Black, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He grew up in New York City.

Hector volunteered for the U.S. Army during World War II. His military experience led him to embrace pacifism and later to join Veterans for Peace. Following WWII, Hector bicycled across Europe, lived in a Christian community in Paraguay, visited a kibbutz in Israel, and worked with war orphans in Europe. He graduated from Harvard University in 1949 with a bachelor’s in anthropology. He was led to the Catholic Worker movement in New York, and later to the Society of Brothers, a Christian community now called the Bruderhof. While there, in 1956 he met Susanna Maendel, who would become his wife of 58 years.

Hector and Susie had three daughters, Rose, Agnes (“Aggie”), and Annie. The family was enriched over many years by their adopted daughter, Patricia Ann Nuckles, called Trish. Additional children were often present in their home and became part of the family. Hector was a gifted pianist. He had attended Juilliard School of Music while considering a career in music. He never lost his love for music, and serenaded his family with classical piano pieces for many years.

Hector and Susie moved to Atlanta in 1963 to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement. They marched alongside John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. They lived in a low-income African American neighborhood for three years. Susie ran a thrift store while Hector was engaged in community organizing to improve living conditions of low-income tenants. He was arrested for trespassing when an angry landlord complained that Hector had tried to deliver blankets to tenants after their heat had been turned off.

In 1977 the Black family moved to Jackson County, Tenn. They brought many plants with them, eventually specializing in edible landscaping plants. Hector became an accomplished grafter, and delighted in sharing his knowledge of many plant-related ideas.

Hector’s life was marked by the murder of daughter Trish in 2000. He and Susie struggled with grief and anger, and ultimately arrived at forgiveness of the man convicted of Trish’s death. Hector spoke often of this journey and the ways it shaped his capacity for compassion. He quoted Bryan Stevenson’s words: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” He made many visits to men on death row, where he shared his story and let them know that their voices were important and were heard.

In his 70s Hector came out as gay to his children and a few friends. His family quickly learned to accept and celebrate this aspect of his life. Susie remained his best friend and companion until her death in 2015.

Hector and Susie were members of Nashville (Tenn.) Meeting and founding members of Cookeville (Tenn.) Meeting. They were lifelong activists, regularly attending marches for peace and justice. Hector quietly worked to persuade others to consider the path of nonviolence, including visits to the local high school where he offered information about alternatives to military service. He cofounded the Interfaith Peace Project, an annual event for young people in Putnam County, Tenn., to express their ideas about how to make the world a more peaceful place. Hector participated in a Black Lives Matter protest a month before his death.

Hector is survived by three children, Rose Black, Agnes Black (Tim Takaro), and Annie Black; and four grandchildren.

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