Born: October 18, 1917, Charleston, SC
Ella P. Mitchell, known as one of the “Mothers in the Gospel Ministry” was born in Charleston, S.C. to Rev. Dr. Joseph R. Pearson and Jessie Wright Pearson. She was one of five daughters. Because her childhood centered around 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 Rev. Pearson wholeheartedly supported his daughter’s wish to minister, Mrs. Pearson was less encouraging.
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 wasn’t until her senior year that she was able to major in Religion. After graduating from Talledega, 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. Mitchell met her husband, Henry, on the first day of classes. They were two of only six African Americans at the seminary. Both were engaged to other people but right before graduation both of their relationships had ended. Because they had been friends throughout school, it seemed natural for them to be together so they married in 1944.
The couple 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. Mitchell became heavily involved in early childhood education. She was elected to the Board of Education and Publications of the American Baptist Convention, 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.
In the 70’s, Mitchell was engulfed in African history and culture. She and her husband visited Ghana and Nigeria and interviewed children and adults on traditional proverbs and storytelling. They learned that many African American traditions and folkways are rooted in African culture. She decided to do her dissertation on African and African American oral tradition and received her doctorate from the School of Theology at Claremont, Calif. In 1978, she became a fully ordained Baptist minister.
Now a retired visiting professor of homiletics at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, she remains a formidable lecturer, preacher and role model for women of the cloth. She is the author of many books and articles, including the notable “Those Preachin’ Women” and “Together for Good,” co-authored with Henry Mitchell, her husband.
URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/mitchellella