Imagine a time machine that affords travelers a front-row seat to historical moments during the U.S. Civil Rights era. While Linda Eatmon-Jones describes such a “fly on the wall” moment in her new book, it is also an apt metaphor for the experience of reading her account of the career of Dr. James Mitchell, a life-long educator who worked against the stubborn grain of racial suppression to affect innovative change in the educational and economic future of blacks living in the Deep South.
This biography of Mitchell, who currently serves as president of Wallace Community College Selma, first takes the reader to Hertford County, North Carolina where he was born in 1948. The county was home to free people of color, who carved out communities where they built businesses, operated schools, bought and owned land and, in some instances, even voted. They embraced Booker T. Washington’s principles of patience and self-reliance along with the contrasting approaches of political activist and civil rights advocate, W.E.B. Du Bois. Raised in this environment by a family that valued accomplishment and hard work, Mitchell was equipped with a unique skill set that allowed him to navigate and break through walls of hardened discrimination.
But first, his own educational needs had to be met. A TOUCHSTONE OF DETERMINATION follows his journey through the halls of higher education as he earns a bachelor’s degree, a master’s and, eventually, a doctorate. He becomes an educator and assumes positions of leadership at various educational institutions in North Carolina and Florida, which allows him to influence lives and open doors for others. A visionary who saw community colleges as an untapped educational resource for people of color, Mitchell led a movement to strengthen the role of these institutions in the lives of those living in underserved communities and facing financial limitations.
With a determination of spirit and years of experience, Mitchell finally lands in the “Black Belt”–Selma, Alabama–to helm the community college that he currently leads. But there were barriers to break, stereotypes to confront, and discriminatory practices to take down. Mitchell’s dream of educational equity and his efforts to make it a reality in ground zero of the Civil Rights movement, is detailed by various colleagues and family members.
While A TOUCHSTONE OF DETERMINATION – TRUE GRIT gives an informational and uplifting account of one man’s mission to overcome long-ingrained obstacles and create inroads into a more promising future for minorities and those facing hardship, the most heartening take-away is that Mitchell’s story isn’t over yet.
Linda Eatmon-Jones’ A TOUCHSTONE OF DETERMINATION – TRUE GRIT is an inspiring must-read for anyone interested in civil rights and life-changing educational opportunities made manifest by one man’s refusal to let barriers remain barriers.
~Libby Wiersema for IndieReader