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NELLYE MAYE TAYLOR: Native American Spiritualist

Nellye Maye Taylor was born about 1907 in Oklahoma. She was the daughter of a Native American woman who lived on the reservation and a black father.  Like most Native American children at the time, she was sent to a “boarding school.” The aim of these schools was to to “assimilate” tribal members into mainstream Protestant America. The reformers thought it was necessary to “civilize Indian people” and make them accept white men’s ways. Any natural spiritual talents that would have been accepted by Nellye’s indigenous ancestors were squashed by her teachers.

Nellye did attend some college to become a foreign missionary, but she did not complete that education. By 1933 she joined the National Colored Spiritualist Association of Churches. A year later she married Horace Greeley Beecher Taylor. Horace was known as Peg Leg Taylor due to his amputated foot. Legend has it that he died defending Black Wall Street during the Tulsa Oklahoma race massacre in 1921. He did defend Black Wall Street, but he didn’t die there. Thirty years his junior, Nellye became his third wife in 1934.

Nellye and Horace moved to Phoenix, Arizona sometime before 1940. From 1942 -1946, she advertised as being a Billet Reader and Trance Medium whose spirit guide was called Great Eagle. Obviously upset that Spiritualism had split into white and black organizations, she befriended Reverend Edwin W. Ford, a Phoenix Spiritualist who was a member of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches. With Ford’s mentorship, She and Horace opened the Taylor Memorial Interracial Spiritualist Church, both becoming pastors. Ford later became pastor of Harmony Chapel in 1950.

Nellye was an activist. She was not only a member of the National Colored Spiritualist Association of Churches; at one point she was Vice-president. She ran to be a state representative and was a member of the Urban League and NAACP. Once a year she held a ten-day intensive series of classes on metaphysics and spiritualism. In the 1940s, she also had a regular column, “Sunshine,” in The Arizona Sun, in which she commented on the racial, political, and economic challenges faced by people of color. She also wrote a column called the “Westside Social Roundup” in the 1950s.

When she died in 1997, she left an indelible mark on both the Phoenix community and Spiritualism.


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