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Ella P. Mitchell

By Cynthia P. Stewart

Protestant

Ella Pearson Mitchell (1917-2008) was a Professor, licensed Minister, scholar, mentor, and advocate for African American women preachers. In all her labors, she has not only seen herself as mother of four; she has been known among countless women preachers as "the Mother of the Movement" and “Dean of Black women preachers.” At heart she was indeed mother to all of them, plus male pastors and students as well. Her teaching ranged from many years in public school kindergarten, to Assistant Director of Christian Education, as well as working alongside her husband, Henry Mitchell on the M. L. King Fellow Program at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, one of the very first D.Min. programs in the country. She met her life partner and friend Henry Mitchell while in seminary and they served more than 64 years in various capacities. 

Biography

Early Background, Education, and Teaching

Ella Pearson was born on October 18, 1917, in Charleston, South Carolina to Rev. Dr. Joseph R. Pearson and Jessica Wright Pearson. She was third of four daughters born in the parsonage of Olivet Presbyterian Church for which her father built.  However, there were five girls growing up in the house, raised with her cousin, who became her sister, because her cousin’s parents died. Both her grandmothers lived in the home as well. There was a competition for the honor of cooking the food, her mother did not get to cook much. Ella did not get to cook as well, Henry her husband taught her to cook. Five girls and two grandmothers caused Ella to not learn how to cook (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17)

Because her childhood centered on church activities, Mitchell realized she wanted to devote her life to the ministry early on. She gave her first sermon at 15 and was then asked to preach regularly. While her father, Rev. Pearson, wholeheartedly supported his daughter’s wish to minister, her mother, Mrs. Pearson was less encouraging. Mitchell did country Sunday school alongside her father who was a Presbyterian minister and country school teacher. Ella began singing and preaching in her father’s congregation as a very young girl in Charleston, South Carolina. Her experience in the church was atypical of an African American woman. She had never heard a woman preach, and even sensed what she later described as an “undercurrent of quiet opposition” from her own mother. Yet her father, a trained Presbyterian minister, encouraged his daughter on the piano and in the pulpit (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17)

Mitchell attended Avery High School, a very prestigious high school in Charleston, South Carolina. They had early college work at the school, which fed the college that she attended- Talladega College, they have a record of putting graduates through PhD programs more than Harvard. Little tiny school but they were sending people to the best of schools. So, whenever someone says they graduated from Talladega that is a big deal. Ella and Henry entered seminary the same time. After high school, for two years she was doing missionary work. They would go out in the field (country side) to start Sunday school and organize new churches. This was in the South. Primarily in her native state of South Carolina and some in Georgia. She did country Sunday school for the congregationalist he thinks. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and country school teacher, he would bicycle into various parts of the state (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17).

Mitchell’s education included Bachelor of Arts from Talladega College, Alabama (1939). After graduating from Talladega, she enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in New York.  She sold her 1932 Dodge, took an evening job as a librarian and lived with her sister to be able to afford the school’s tuition.  She received her Master of Arts in Christian Education from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary, New York City.  A few years later, she received her Doctor of Ministry from Claremont School of Theology, California. She decided to do her doctoral dissertation on African and African American oral tradition.  She also received several honorary doctorates (Henry Mitchell Interview). In 1989, Talladega College, conferred upon her the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. In 1994, she was named one of ten distinguished alumni of Union Theological Seminary. In 2007, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis conferred Doctor of Humane Letters (Emory Rose Library Archives, retrieved 5/3/18).

Mitchell broke many barriers as an African American woman studying in higher education; she was the second to graduate from Union in 1943; at Talladega College she was the first student to major in religion under the tutelage of Joseph W. Nicholson, coauthor of the 1933 text The Negro’s Church with Benjamin Elijah Mays. Later she was taught directly by the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, as one of only six African Americans at Union Theological Seminary in the 1940s. Her Godmother studied under W.E.B. DuBois and he became one of her heroes at a young age. She wrote a chapter about his influence on her life in the book, Lure and Loathing. While the possibility of women becoming minister was limited in her day, she nonetheless pursued religious studies.  Many of the courses were one-on-one tutorials and work in the church.  It was not until her senior year that she was able to major in Religion.  (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17)

Prior to her team teaching career with her husband Henry, Ella was named the first female Dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College, Atlanta GA in 1986. Her two-year tenure was preceded by four years as Associate Professor of Christian Education at the Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, Richmond, VA. She has also taught at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, The Claremont School of Theology, LaVerne University, Compton College, and Santa Monica City Colleges, and the public schools of Fresno and Claremont California.

When Ella finally accepted ordination, she was in her 50’s. She was ordained at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland in 1978. She accepted the call to ordination right after her mother passed away. Her husband, Dr. Henry Mitchell, during the interview remembered, he was sitting in the pulpit. He looked out and did not see her in her normal seat, but then he noticed she was in the front row and came up for ordination. He was in full support of her being ordained. However, Ella’s pastor from Trinity Baptist Church did not ordain her, because he informed Ella’s husband that the Holy Spirit told him he could not ordain her. He was scared to tell her. Therefore, J. Alfred Smith came forward and said, “she can be ordained in my church.” The tragedy was that Ella’s pastor at Trinity had enlisted all the ministers in Los Angeles for ordination. However, no one never did understand why he would not ordain Ella. Mitchell’s husband thought the deacons said no, but he found out they wanted her to be ordained but the Pastor did not. (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17).

Together for Good – Partnership in Teaching and Ministry

Mitchell met her husband, Henry, on the first day of classes at Union Theological Seminary (NY). The story goes that they met in an elevator on her way to a job interview. They were married on August 12, 1944 at St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem. Throughout their life together, they celebrated their first meeting by passing to kiss whenever they were in an elevator together (Mitchell obituary dated 12/2/08). They were two of only six African Americans at the seminary. During seminary, both were engaged to other people but right before graduation both of their relationships had ended.  She asked him to marry him, even though they were treating each other as brothers and sisters, as well as dating other people. She asked him to the Sadie Hawkins Dance, where she asked him “will you marry me.” He said, “Name the date.” He felt she had a countenance of an angel. Because they had been friends throughout school, it seemed natural for them to be together, so they decided to get married. They have 3 living children, four granddaughters, and two grandsons. One son died of Leukemia when he was 20 years old (Henry, Jr). Another son adopted from Korea at 3.5 years old, found in a field with no food and left alone because of his skin color, he was darker. A chaplain found him and he has now finished college. One daughter is a preacher in Florida (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17)

Union Theological Seminary (NY) provided Ella with more than a top-notch education. It introduced her to the man whom she would spend the next sixty-four years of her life. As a couple, a veritable tag-team of theological education, Ella and Henry Mitchell made an indelible impact on the academic study of religion as architects of what is now known as black church studies. Thousands of seminarians, clergy, and laypersons have feasted off their collective wisdom and transformed by their spiritual and intellectual insight (Walton, 2008). The couple – Ella and Henry, was passionate about missionary work so they moved to California to work in ministries serving Oakland and Berkeley. The couple spent many years in California at various communities and parishes (visionary project.org).  

Henry Mitchell is a native of Columbus, Ohio. His grandfather, born in Canada, an escaped slave, finished Lincoln University in 1886; mother was a slave, escaped slave stepfather (Alabama). He lived (Henry) in California for many years. His brothers were preachers as well, they are now deceased, but many of them made it pass 70/80 years old. He holds degrees from Lincoln University Pennsylvania (BA and L.H.D Honorary); Union Theological Seminary New York (B.D., M.Div.); California State University at Fresno (M.A. Linguistics); Claremont School of Theology, California (Th.D.); and the American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA (D.D. Honorary) (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17 and Emory Rose Library Archives retrieved 5/3/18). He is the author of the following texts, Black Preaching, The Recovery of Preaching and Celebration, Experience in Preaching, Black Church Beginnings 1650-1990: A Radical Rewrite and Correction of Early Black Church History and he co-authored Soul Theology and Preaching for Black Self-Esteem with Dr. Emil Thomas.

Mitchell and her husband taught many courses together at various seminaries, as well as, preached together. Many did not see one without the other. He was the Director of the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies in Los Angeles – part of Fuller Theological Seminary where he was Dean of Faculty.  While at Virginia Union where he was Dean of the School of Theology, Ella taught Christian Education courses and her office was right next door to his office (Henry Mitchell Interview 12/13/17)

Henry witnessed how women were not welcomed in the pulpit of many churches. However, he remembers fondly a time Ella preached in front of a church full of men who were against women preachers. However, by the end of her sermon many were standing on their feet in awe of her preaching. Ministering at two different churches, Ella at Ebenezer (ATL) and he at Antioch (ATL), he made the decision to join Ella. He began to see that women and girls were not able to have a role in the pulpit even to make announcements. (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17).

Ella’s husband, Henry Mitchell – oversaw a doctoral program MLK Fellows Program, he had a grant where he took 19 men during the summer to study in West Africa – Liberia and Nigeria. He used faculty of the African schools to teach the fellows. He had Ella as his assistant director the program. Everything I did we did together, she has been dead 10 years and people still ask, and “Where is your wife. Everybody accused us of being glued together.” Many of these men went on to become Pastors or renowned churches throughout the US. Many of them were not especially kind to women, but for three summers, he taught them. One summer, he picked Ella for the Wednesday preacher, they were not happy about it. When she got finished preaching, these men were on their feet, even the Pastor who denied her ordination. He saw them shout as if he had never seen it before. The spirit decided to teach a little through her preaching, this is always a remembrance for him. Those fellas could not handle it. A COGIC pastor’s daughter sang after the sermon and the Spirit kept moving and touched the men in the audience (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17).

In the 70’s, Mitchell was engulfed in African history and culture.  She and her husband visited Ghana and Nigeria, interviewed children and adults on traditional proverbs and storytelling.  They learned that many African American traditions and folkways are rooted in African culture. After retiring as visiting professor of homiletics at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, she was a formidable lecturer, preacher and role model for women of the cloth. Union provided Ella Pearson with more than a top-notch education. It introduced her to the man whom she would spend the next sixty-four years of her life. As a couple, Ella and Henry, a veritable tag-team of theological education, made an indelible impact on the academic study of religion as architects of what is now known as black church studies. Thousands of seminarians, clergy, and laypersons have feasted off their collective wisdom and transformed by their spiritual and intellectual insight. Though she began, her career in the 1940’s directing choirs in the Bay area of California, her status as an educator cannot be reduced to her role as trailblazer for African American women.  Her six-decade career includes teaching Christian education at the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (now American Baptist Seminary of the West), Colgate Rochester Divinity School, the inaugural dean of Sister’s Chapel at Spelman College and professor of homiletics at Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta and the D. Min program at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio

(http://www.visionaryproject.org/mitchellella, retrieved 11/15/17).


Contributions to Christian Education

Dr. Mitchell served as Minister of Education at the Church of the Master in New York City, as well as, St James Presbyterian Church in Harlem. There is a Professorship named after Ella, the second black woman to graduate from Union. Ella – teaching Christian Education courses at Virginia Union (Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell interview, 12/13/17). Ella was Chairman for Board of Christian Education at Second Baptist Church, Fresno, California. Former President, Board of Education and Publication of American Baptist Churches (Emory Rose Library archives, 5/3/18). Mitchell became heavily involved in early childhood education. While on the Board of Education and Publications of the American Baptist Convention, she was responsible for publishing church school literature. During the last four years of her 14-year tenure on the board, she became President in the early 1960’s. The racial implications of the appointment were not lost on her, coming at a time of the civil rights revolution in America. She was also instrumental in bringing Martin Luther King Jr. to Fresno for a march and meeting in June 1964 (visionaryproject.org).

Dr. Mitchell distinguished herself as an instructor and scholar in religious education at American Baptist Seminary of the West, Fresno State College, Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Compton College, Santa Monica City College, and Proctor School of Theology. From 1959 to 1973, she served on the Board of Educational Ministries of American Baptists, four years as its President. She taught Christian Education and directed Continuing Education at Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University (Emory Rose Library Archives, 5/3/18).

She helped to open the minds (and improve the preaching) of scores of male clergies who claimed the pulpit as their gendered birthright. Whether in Oakland, Atlanta or Russia she reached beyond the African American community and across gender lines to teach what W.E.B. DuBois suggested over a hundred years ago, “The black preacher is the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil.” Rev. Ella P. Mitchell did this like none other. Co-mentored with her husband the Doctor of Ministry program at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, and co-founded the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies in Los Angela. Dr. Mitchell was the first woman Dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College. As a professor, she taught at The Interdenominational Theological Center, the American Baptist Seminary of the West, and the School of Theology at Claremont.

Christian Education was important for Ella because her father was a minister even though there were no women who were ministers. She wanted to be involved in the education of Christians. Was very passionate about children and their formative years. Ella’s daughter Muriel recalled her mother telling her children, “We would be at 15 as we were at 5. We are born in the likeness of God and it is up to us to keep that likeness. That was their responsibility that is why education and childhood education was important.” Mitchell taught kindergarten for 25 years. Uncle J Alfred was willing to ordain her after so many years of living out her true calling. She thought women were so important, because they have more interaction with children then men. It is a very important role to play as minister. She required that ministers during their training to spend an hour at the lab school. As you become as a child you become a minister. Have to relate to children and learn from them. The children are the foundation of Christian education. Christ like foundation is key. Books – women need to be heard, they did not have a platform, and few were pastoring churches. There were few who were able to preach in a pulpit. She was at Ebenezer in ATL and Henry was at a church (Antioch in ATL) where women and girls were not able to have a role even to make announcements. Henry then realized that he could no longer stay at the church and then joined Ebenezer. Women had sermons that were in abundance and needed to be heard. They were able to share sermons. Betty Wright – Ella asked her to submit a sermon (Muriel Mitchell Interview).

She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the notable edited four volume series, “Those Preaching’ Women (1995-2008) and Women: To Preach or Not to Preach (1991). As well as co-authored with her husband two books, Together for Good (1999), and Fire in the Well: Sermons by Ella P. and Henry H. Mitchell (2003). She was the recipient of Union Theological Seminary’s Unitas Award, Claremont School of Theology’s distinguished alumni/ae award; and was a Union Trailblazers honoree.  In 1974, Mitchell received the Doctor of Ministry degree from the School of Theology in Claremont and was ordained at. She was the first woman to preach at the Hampton’s Ministers’ Conference.

Nationally recognized as preacher, teacher, lecturer and author, she was the first female Dean of Sisters Chapel, Spelman College (ATL), 1986-1988. Her two-year tenure at Spelman preceded by four years as Associate Professor of Christian Education and Director of Continuing Education at Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University. In semi-retirement, she served for twelve years, with her husband, as Visiting Professor of Homiletics at the Interdenominational Theological Center. Meanwhile she has edited or co-edited six volumes of sermons by women, plus co-authoring two books with her husband. With him, she has also team taught at seminaries from coast to coast in the USA, plus Zaire, England and Russia. In all her labors, she has not only seen herself as mother of four; she known among countless women preachers as "the Mother of the Movement". At heart, she was indeed mother to all of them, plus male pastors and students as well. Her teaching ranged from many years in public school kindergarten, to Assistant Director, with her husband, of the M. L. King Program at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, one of the very first D. Min. programs in the country. Dr. Ella Mitchell and Dr. Paul Mitchell also founded the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies in Los Angeles, California

At Union Theological Seminary, a Eunice C. Jackson & Ella P. Mitchell Chair established with generous support, Union reached their funding goal for the new Eunice C. Jackson & Ella P. Mitchell Chair, named in honor of the first two African American women to graduate from Union Theological Seminary. These women are the definition of trailblazers, paving the way for Union’s strong tradition in both Womanist and Liberation theologies. The Jackson-Mitchell Chair has the literal buy-in of the Union community; nearly $500,000 of the Chair’s endowment raised from more than 300 generous donors. That is the greatest number of individual gifts given to a single chair at Union and offers clear testimony to the chair’s importance and our shared belief in its enduring value. Union leadership has selected Womanist and Systematics theologian Rev. Dr. Andrea C. White to fill the Jackson-Mitchell Chair, an outstanding scholar who embodies the ethical, socio-political, and ecclesial traditions so identified with the Chair’s namesakes. Her investiture will take place in 2018 after the publication of her two monographs Scandal of Flesh: Black Women’s Bodies and God Politics, and The Back of God: A Theology of Otherness in Karl Barth and Paul Ricoeur, as well as a third volume that she is editing: Feminist and Womanist Theologies (Fortress Press, Shapers of Modern Theology book series).

Union Theological Seminary (NY) on November 30, 1984 compiled a 40th Anniversary Booklet for the Class of 1945 (retrieved from Emory Rose Library Archives, May 3, 2018). Ella responded to a few questions:

  1. When asked what her church required of those who teach or have an office in Sunday School. She responded, “They should be equipped with knowledge of the bible and know the best methods of teaching the Word. They are to work with lay unlettered clergy and lettered clergy persons to help them become workers rightly dividing the Word of truth blessed by God through Jesus Christ.”
  2. When asked about professionalism of ordained full time salaried person who work in church related occupations. Based on your experience what are the most powerful influences or factors, which promote and inhibit the professionalism of Black female clergy. She responded, “to be sure to use your influence when you get it. It is hard to be gentle in most encounters, but one should try to be Christ-like always. Regarding inhibiting professionalism, she responded, “an extremely aggressive women who make an issue of the smallest matter.”
  3. Who are your sponsors and mentors who helped guide you in your present career? She responded, 1. Parents, 2. College professors, J.W. Nicholson and Benjamin Mays, co-author of the Negro’s Church.  
  4. When asked what her career goal was when she entered seminary as well as after seminary, she gave the same answer for both questions, which was to be in educational ministry.
  5. When asked advice to those securing ordination or experience obstacles, she stated, “keep plugging at it, women pose a threat.” Ella licensed in 1943 and ordained in 1978.

Here is the list of additional accomplishments listed in the booklet.

Chronology of Christian Education, Higher Education and Professional Membership

6/43-8/44         Director of Christian Education, Girls Work, and Church Social Worker – Church of the Master (Presbyterian), New York City.

9/51-6/69         Graduate Instructor in Child Psychology and Religion, Baptist Divinity School, Berkeley, CA

1959-1973       Member Board of Educational Ministries – American Baptist Churches (President 1968-1972).

9/60-6/61         Student teacher at Fresno State College Lab School and Leader of pilot program on team teaching at kindergarten level.

9/61-6/66         Kindergarten teacher, Fresno County (CA) schools and teacher of pilot program with teacher aides (new career for the poor), Consultant parent education for local head start.

7/66-1/67         Executive Director of Henderson Community Center – Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles (part-time).

1/67-1/68         Child development supervisor for the Head Start Program at Los Angeles Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

7/69-6/72         Consultant in Early Childhood Education at the Compton College. Also taught single courses at Santa Monica College and Pepperdine University.

1971-1972       President, Church Women United, Rochester New York (resigned due to moving back to CA).

2/72-6/72         Visiting instructor in Religious Education at the School of Theology at Claremont (CA).

1971-1975       Member, Governing Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA

1974                Vice President of the Black American, Denominational Caucus, USA

10/74-6/80       Kindergarten instructor for Claremont (CA) Unified School District and part-time consultant in Multi-cultural education.

1975-1979       Member Claremont City Human Resource Commission and a lifetime of numerous civic, religious, and professional affiliations.

1975                Who’s Who in Religion

1976                Who’s Who in Black America 

1975                Instructor in Educational Ministries at the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies, Los Angeles, with Adjunct status at the University of LaVerne and the American Baptist Seminary of the West.

1/81-                Minister of Church Education – Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles

8/82-                Director of Continuing Education and Associate Professor of Christian Education at Virginia Union School of Theology.

Seminary Teaching

Visiting Professor of Homiletics - Interdenominational Theological Center (ATL) – 1988-2001

  • Expository Preaching and the Resources of Great literature
  • Preaching Ministry and Great Themes
  • Preaching for healing and wholeness
  • Expository Preaching and The Healing Word
  • Expository Preaching as Celebration – the Celebration of the Gospel
  • Preparation and Delivery of Sermons

Colgate Rochester Divinity School (NY)

  • Black Church Studies
  • Delivery of Sermons
  • Expository Preaching: Children and Youth

United Theological Seminary, Dayton OH – Doctor of Ministry Program Mentors/Advisors (see below for a list of dissertation projects)

People she influenced:

Jonathan L. Walton wrote,

There are rare persons who, beyond their many professional accomplishments, are able to rouse sincere love and appreciation at the deepest human level. This person’s (Ella) very presence embodies a seemingly paradoxical gift; their regality involves the ways they make people feel more important while allowing themselves to seem less important. This is why, in part, from that point forward the mere mention of their name evokes a childlike smile and memories of an old beloved friend (http://religiondispatches.org/rev-ella-pearson-mitchell-1917-2008/, retrieved 11/25/17).

Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, Woman Preach President, wrote about her mentor in November 2008 on Dr. Renita Weem’s blog, “Something Within:”

It was my great privilege to edit the last volume of Those Preaching’ Women: Multicultural Volume with Mother Ella. I love/d her very much. Her indomitable spirit, her ready laugh, her twinkling eyes, her sage advice, her listening ear, her prophetic blessing…. When Mother Ella took you in as a “daughter” you were truly taken in. My birth mother died in 2002; Mother Ella, along with Mother Mildred Holmes, were quick to fill the void. It amazes me still that with all her children, grandchildren, godchildren, etc. she found time to call to check on me. I will never forget two incidences in the same conversation at the Cathedral College (with Katie Cannon present and in the conversation). The first, after we had been trading ‘war stories’ as women in ministry (each of us representing significant numbers of years in ministry), she looked at me and said, “Valerie, you’re so brave!” It was a blessing and her call for me to “be” brave. I’m trying to live into what she saw that day. Secondly, she looked me in my face and told me that this volume that we would edit together, in which she adamantly wanted to include the voices of other women beyond the African American pulpit, would be her very last. I wonder what she was telling me…. Finally, I just want to echo Renita’s comment that Mother Ella’s mind was sharp as a tack right up to the stroke. I spoke with her maybe 3 days before that, and again, she was laughing, giving advice, and telling me that I was at the “top of the list” for her prayers. I love/d her and always will. I hope that someone I mentor, mother, sister, etc. will remember me and love me one day as much as I love her. That’s the legacy she leaves…. (http://womanpreach.org/awards/ella-pearson-mitchell-pioneer-award/, retrieved 12/5/17).

Mitchell’s influence is widely known, because of the numerous awards she received for her preaching, teaching, and mentorship. One significant award was her 30th Ordination Award from Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. He is the Senior Pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church and he ordained her in 1978. Her award stated, “You are an outstanding pioneer, preacher, professor, author, and theologian. A woman of God with many talents. You continue to model exceptional high standards for women and men who pursue theological excellence. You are commended for providing numerous opportunities for women preachers to document their sermons in a collection of books, “Those Preaching Women” that expresses their God given talents to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” She was scheduled to receive this award on August 17, 2008, however, the night before she suffered a stroke and her health began to decline throughout the rest of the year. Additional awards she received are the following.

Awards

  • Distinguished Speaker Award – The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Third Annual Seminarian Development Program, August 6, 2001
  • The Hollywood Baptist Church of Christ Special Commendation, Advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, August 20, 1983
  • City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, Outstanding Volunteer Service, February 18, 1982
  • Christian Education Commission – Second Baptist Church, Los Angeles, CA, July 1982
  • Black History Guest Speaker Award, Derby Club, February 23, 1979
  • Canon of Great Preaching – Metropolitan Baptist Church, Salutes Ella P. Mitchell as one of America’s greatest theologians and preachers of the Gospel – H. Beecher Hicks Sr. Institute on Great Preaching, October 12-19, 1997
  • Department of Veteran Affairs, Certificate of Appreciation, National Black Chaplains Association for Special Contribution to Cultural Diversity in Pastoral Care, October 21, 1995.
  • Allen Temple Baptist Church “Honors” Rev. Dr. Ella P. Mitchell for 30 years Ordination Anniversary, August 17, 2008

In Death

The Reverend Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell departed this life at her home on November 20, 2008 peacefully and regally in her sleep. After a courageous struggle, she succumbed to complications of pulmonary disease brought on by a stroke she suffered on August 16, the night before she was to preach the 30th Anniversary of her ordination at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, CA. A wake for "Dr. Ella" held on Monday December 1, 2008 at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ella has two daughters, Muriel M. Lawrence (New Jersey, NY) and the Rev. Elizabeth M. Clement (FL), one son, Kenneth Mitchell (Tallahassee, FL); four granddaughters, Stephanie Mitchell Smith Gulley, Danielle, Kim and Marri Mitchell; two grandsons, Arthur J.H. and Mitchell D.P. Clement; two sisters, Ermine P. Washington and Lurline P. Cotton; two great grandsons, Malachi and Noa Mitchell and great-nephew/grandson, Taj N. Wilson.  (Obituary, dated 12/2/08)

After 64 years of marriage, her husband recalled they did not have a single fuss. He regrets Ella did not know all the honors she is receiving right now after her death 10 years ago (Henry Mitchell Interview, 12/13/17).

 

Works Cited

Interviews

Henry Mitchell, interview New Jersey home, 12/13/17

Muriel Mitchell, interview New Jersey home, 12/13/17

Books, Journals, and Articles

Finger, Reta Halterman, “Those preaching Women,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., Daughters of Sarah, 12(2), Mar-Apr. 1986, 27

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.).  (1985). Those preaching women: Sermons by Black women preachers,

 Volume 1. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1988). Those preaching women: More sermons by Black women

 preachers, Volume 2. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1996). Those preaching women: African American preachers

 tackle tough questions, Volume 3. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P., and Glass, J. B. (Eds.). (2004). Those preaching women, Volume

 4. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P., and Bridgeman, V. (Eds.). (2008). Those preaching women: A

multicultural collection. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1991). Women: To preach or not to preach: 21 outstanding Black

 preachers say Yes! Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. & Mitchell, H. (1999). Together for good: Lessons from fifty-years of marriage.

 Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Mitchell, E. P. & Mitchell, H. (2003). Fire in the well: Sermons by Ella and Henry Mitchell. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Sanders, Cheryl J., “Those Preaching Women: Sermons by Black Women Preachers,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., Journal of Religious Thought, 43(1), 129-130.

Tillman, B., “Those Preaching Women, Volume 4,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., and Glass, J. B., Black Issues Book Review, 6(6), Nov-Dec 2004, 18.

Thompson, L.L., “Those Preaching Women: A Multicultural Collection,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., Homiletics (Online), 34(2), 2009, 43-44, retrieved November 29, 2017, file:///C:/Users/cstewart8/Downloads/3356-1-12927-1-10-20091202%20(1).pdf

Archives: Ella and Henry Mitchell 1981-2002, https://findingaids.library.emory.edu/documents/mitchell11018/, Emory University, Stuart A Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Internet Sources/Websites/YouTube Videos

Ella and Henry Mitchell Fund for Theological Education Scholarship – http://www.mitchellfund.org

http://womanpreach.org/awards/ella-p-mitchell-pioneer-award/ retrieved November 29, 2017

Walton, Jonathan, Rev. Ella Pearson Mitchell (1917-2008) http://religiondispatches.org/rev-ella-pearson-mitchell-1917-2008/, retrieved November 29, 2017

http://www.30goodminutes..org/index.php/archives/23-member-archives/591-ella-p-mitchell-program-4215, retrieved November 29, 2017

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/atlanta/obituary.aspx?pid=120504965, retrieved November 29, 2017

http://www.visionaryproject.org/mitchellella/, retrieved November 29, 2017

http://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/reverend-henry-mitchell, retrieved November 29, 2017

Ella Mitchell: Resistance to women in the pulpit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR_fQB4XfYE&t=198s

Successful Marriage: Ella and Henry Mitchell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2b0gVRhL74, retrieved November 29, 2017

Interview between Dr. Valerie Bridgeman and Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell, Part 1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed-41Loova4, retrieved November 29, 2017

Interview between Dr. Valeria Bridgeman and Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell, Part 2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed-41Loova4&t=1s

Interview between Dr. Valerie Bridgeman and Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell, Part 3

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zpt5VwsxiDc

Interview between Dr. Valerie Bridgeman and Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell, Part 4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd7uK6pvgQs


Bibliography

Books:

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1985). Those preaching women: Sermons by Black women preachers,

 Volume 1. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. (1986). Oral tradition: Legacy of faith for the Black church,” Religious Education, 81(1), 93-112.

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.) (1988). Those preaching women: More sermons by Black women

 preachers, Volume 2. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1996). Those preaching women: African American preachers

 tackle tough questions, Volume 3. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P., and Glass, J. B. (Eds.). (2004). Those preaching women, Volume

 4. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P., and Bridgeman, V. (Eds.). (2008). Those preaching women: A

multicultural collection. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1991). Women: To preach or not to preach: 21 outstanding Black

 preachers say Yes! Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E. P. & Mitchell, H. (1999). Together for good: Lessons from fifty-years of marriage.

 Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Mitchell, E. P. & Mitchell, H. (2003). Fire in the well: Sermons by Ella and Henry Mitchell. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

 

Dissertation:

Mitchell, E. P. (1974) Black nature: Oral tradition as model for today. D.Min, School of Theology at Claremont, held at Claremont School of Theology library.

 

Chapters in Books:

Mitchell, E. P. (1993), DuBois’s Dilemma and African American Adaptiveness. In Early, G.

(Ed.), Lure and loathing: Essays on race, identity, and the ambivalence of assimilation (pp. 264-273). New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Mitchell, E.P. (1996), Women of faith. In Smith, J. (Ed.), No other help I know: Sermons on

 prayer and spirituality (pp. 43-49). Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Mitchell, E.P. (1998), Biblical and theological reflections for revisioning models of ministry.

In Harris, F. (Ed.), What does it mean to be Black and Christian? Pulpit, pew, and academy in dialogue, Volume 2, The survival of a whole person: The meaning of the African American church (pp. ???). [SC1] Nashville, TN: Townsend Press

Mitchell, E.P. (2010), All flesh is eligible. In Simmons, M. J. & Thomas, F. A. (Eds.), Preaching with sacred fire: An anthology of African American sermons, 1750 to Present (pp. 761-765). New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

 

Articles:

Mitchell, E.P., and Mitchell, H., (1989-1990). Black spirituality: The values in the “OP Time Religion. Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center, 17(1-2), 98-100.

Mitchell, E.P., and Mitchell, H., (2003, July-September). “Worship: A rethinking” The Living Pulpit, 12(3), 18-19.

Mitchell, E.P. and Mitchell, H., (1995, October-December). Jesus birthday at our house. The Living Pulpit, 4(4), 14.

Mitchell, E.P., (1986). Oral tradition: Legacy of faith for the Black church. Religious Education, 81(1), 93-112.

Mitchell, E.P., (1988, Spring). Rejoice always. African American Pulpit, 1(2), 25-31.

Mitchell, E.P., (1995, April-June). Notes on the bearing of suffering. The Living Pulpit, 4(2), 45.

Mitchell, E.P., (1998, January-March). Easter belief. The Living Pulpit, 7(1), 7.

Mitchell, E.P., (1999, Spring). All flesh. African American Pulpit, 2(2), 50-56.

Mitchell, E.P., (1999, Fall). Redigging the wells. African American Pulpit, 2(4), 40-46.

Mitchell, E.P. (2001, October-December). O, Mary, don'tcha weep. The Living Pulpit, 10(4), 4.

Mitchell, E.P., (2005, April-June). Humble before the power of God: A reflection on belief, unbelief, and the resurrection. The Living Pulpit, 14(2), 18-19.

 

Other Items (Audio/Video tapes, archives)

VHS: Mitchell, E.P., (1996), Making the Word come alive, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, OH.

Archives: Ella and Henry Mitchell 1981-2002, https://findingaids.library.emory.edu/documents/mitchell11018/, Emory University, Stuart A Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

 

Book Reviews

Finger, Reta Halterman, “Those Preaching Women,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., Daughters of Sarah, 12(2), Mar-Apr. 1986, 27

Sanders, Cheryl J., “Those Preaching Women: Sermons by Black Women Preachers,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., Journal of Religious Thought, 43(1), 129-130

Tillman, B., “Those Preaching Women, Volume 4,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., and Glass, J. B., Black Issues Book Review, 6(6), Nov-Dec 2004, 18

Thompson, L.L., “Those Preaching Women: A Multicultural Collection,” edited by Mitchell, E.P., Homiletics (Online), 34(2), 2009, 43-44.

 

United Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH) Dissertation Advisors – Ella P. Mitchell and Henry Mitchell:

 Brown, P. (1997). A homiletical approach to the healing of stress levels within Mt. Carmel C.M.E. church (D.Min), United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses Database, 9725352

Colbert, R. (1997). The nurturing of an African American church into a caring community. (D.Min), United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH,ProQuest Dissertation and Theses Database, 9731478

Diamond, B. (1997). A survey of the history of the Black church in America from the 1600’s to the present: A curriculum course for students at Spelman College. (D.Min), United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses, 9725247

Fortson, L. (1997). A study of congregational attitudinal change toward outreach, as a result of holistic preaching. (D.Min), United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses 9725248

             Giles, J. (1997). Holistic Ministry to the imprisoned: An opportunity for ministers and                        

             congregational participation, (D.Min), United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest  

            Dissertation and Theses 9725353

            Halbert, J. (1997). Implementing a prayer ministry. (D.Min), United Theological Seminary,

            Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses 9728905

            Harrison, J. (1997). Family mentor teams as outreach ministry. (D.Min), United Theological

            Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses 9726987

            Ocke, S. (1997). Qualities of preaching for effective gospel communication. (D.Min), United

            Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses, 9728911

Phelps, C. (1997). Motivation and empowerment of the laity in a small congregation. (D.Min), United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses, 9733521

Wills, R., (1997). Effective Pastoral Leadership by Social Activist Pastors, (D.Min), United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 9725253

 

Works about Ella P. Mitchell

Anonymous. (2008, November 29). Women in Ministry Mourn Loss of Dr. Ella Mitchell. Afro - American, p. B4.

Those preachin' women: Sermons by Black women preachers. (1985). Christianity Today, 29, 44.

Four sisters reveal how they have stayed married to 'the right man' for more than 50 years. (Ermine, Jessica, Ella, and Lurline, daughters of the late Jessie and Joseph Pearson). (1997). Jet, 92(23), 14.

Durso, P & Durso, K., (2005). I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey: The story of Ella Pearson Mitchell. Valley Forge, PA, Judson Press.

Magee, K., (2012). Ella Mitchell: A forerunner of liberation spirituality among African American women (Ph.D), School of Theology and Religious Studies, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 3508774


 [SC1]I have searched libraries and databases for Ella’s chapter pages in this book as well as contacted the author of the book. He has not responded. 


Excerpts from Publications

Mitchell, E. P. (1986). Oral tradition: Legacy of faith for the Black church. Religious Education, 81(1), p. 106.

“Alongside the dayschools are reading, writing and ‘arithmetic were the Sunday Schools, held in homes as well as churches. They were often held wherever the dayschool were held, and they were the pride and joy of both Black church and community. This went on from the close of the Civil War until well into the twentieth century. But these classes were designed to follow White church program models, and to provide a more “proper” religious instruction than had been provided, presumably, by the oral tradition.”

 

Mitchell, E. P. (1993). DuBois’s dilemma and African American adaptiveness. In Early, G. (Ed.), Lure and loathing: Essays on race, identity, and the ambivalence of assimilation (pp. 264-273), New York: NY: Penguin Press, p. 203.

“The syndrome I refer to as the DuBoisian dubiety still lives, of course, but it does not have a place of prominence in the ravages of psychic debilitation with which contemporary African Americans must contend. In the first place, few black Americans since DuBois have been educated to be “white” in a white controlled society. They know better. There were few precedents for the education of blacks at the time DuBois was born in 1868, but by the time of his death in 1963, America had delivered to her black children a solid century of separate but unequal education designed from its conception to prepare them for a “place” which had been designated especially for them in our expanded order of universal freedom and inclusive citizenship.”

 

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1991). Women: To preach or not to preach: 21 outstanding Black preachers say Yes! Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, pp. 40-41.

“What committee would have selected a chubby girl converted in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1925 to be a kind of entering wedge for the breaking of the barrier against women? In high school, God called her attention, but she had heard from reliable sources like her own mother that women were not supposed to preach. Strangely enough, her preacher-father never said a discouraging word to her. In college she halfheartedly changed her major to religion in her senior year. Laster when she served as an S.S. missionary in rural South Carolina, she would still not admit to preaching. That woman continued to resist a call to preach even after seminary preparation, teaching in seminaries, and through the years delivering the “Word.” Then one Sunday morning fifty years after her first word from the Lord, the Holy Ghost just snatched her out of the pew. She went running down the aisle to tearfully confess her “call to preach.” God insisted and the Holy Spirit moved to the ordination. God be praised! God had chosen her, and God does move in mysterious yet powerful ways.”

 

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1985). Those preaching women: Sermons by Black women preachers: Volume 1. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, p. 14.

“God has been trying all the time to break through the cultural bias that has prevailed. Women have been “put down” almost universally, perhaps because males of the species have stronger muscles and more commanding voices. If has been, as we Blacks know so well, a game of power. And in that game women of all ages have had the disadvantage of less physical power. And so they were written into the culture at a subordinate position. Even here, however, one sees blinding shafts of light indicating that God is break through those cultural biases and progressively revealing himself in even higher dimensions in regard to women - just as God has done in regard to minorities.”

 

Mitchell, E. P. (Ed.). (1988). Those preaching women: More sermons by Black women preachers: Volume 2. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, p. 15.

“We women are challenged to exceed the minimum and break down the walls of gender discrimination through excellence of preparation and practice in ministry. As we take up this challenge we can be certain that this hard situation will be blessed by God. Again and again, we will say with 20/20 hindsight, “God must be trying to tell us something. We have been better used and our ministries blessed better than we dared to ask or dream.” 


Mitchell, E. P.  and Glass, J. B. (Eds.). (2004). Those preaching women: Volume 4. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Because the Black Church historically has made it difficult for women pursuing a preaching ministry, this volume gives voice to African American women preachers. It sheds light that no longer should the question be asked “Should women be allowed to preach?” but ask “How can the church encourage women to continue answering the call of God and to press on in the name of Jesus?” This volume has twenty-five preaching women who represent diversity with respect to age, geography, and ministerial assignment.

Mitchell, E. P., and Bridgeman, V. (Eds.). (2008). Those preaching women: A multicultural collection, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

The last volume of Those Preaching Women, Mitchell incorporates Bridgeman as co-editor. In this volume they take on new territory of racial diversity of women preachers. The book is multicultural collection of women from Cuba, Vietnam, Shinnecock Nation, as well as, African American, Latina American, Native American, Asian American who all share their homiletical gifts.

Mitchell, E. P. (1986). Oral tradition: Legacy of faith for the Black church. Religious Education, 81(1), 93-112.

In this article, Mitchell shares her formative years of growing up in an intergenerational Christian household with both her grandmothers, mother, sisters, and cousin. She reflects on the importance of traditional African spirituality through music, art, proverbs, and oral traditions, which have been transmitted to various generations. Giving the history of African American Sunday Schools within the Black church, she emphasis that religious instruction is imperative for children and their families. 


Author Information

Cynthia P. Stewart

Cynthia P. Stewart, Ph.D., has served as Faculty and Adjunct Faculty at various universities and seminaries – North Park University and Evangelical Theological Seminary, United Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH), Trinity Christian College, Wheaton College, and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. She received her Doctor of Philosophy in Christian Education and Master of Theological Studies from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. She received her M.Div. and Master of Christian Education from North Park Evangelical Theological Seminary. She is currently Assistant Director and Academic Internship Program Manager for the Center for Experiential Learning at Loyola University Chicago.  E-mail: Cynthia.stewart@garrett.edu