Ella Mitchell: A Forerunner of Liberation Spirituality among African American Women
Ella Mitchell (1917-2008) reflects an emphasis on liberation that is inspired and empowered by the influence of God. Though a small body of literature exists by and about women of African American descent, few texts explore their lives and contributions to culture and none have noted the contributions of Mitchell's life and work as a model of lived liberation spirituality. This dissertation explores the life experience and achievements of Mitchell, who was the first female dean of Spelman College's Sisters Chapel, the first African American woman to become president and serve on the Board of Educational Ministries of the American Baptist Church, and the first female to preach at the historic Hampton Ministers' Conference. Mitchell was the first to pull together the voices of African American women preachers for publication and did so through a series of five ground-breaking books entitled Those Preachin' Women (1985, 1988, 1996, 2004, and 2008).Segundo Galilea's concept of liberation spirituality and its dimensions provides a framework for analysis of Mitchell's life and contributions. Information was collected through published works by Mitchell, available recordings of interviews with Mitchell, unpublished manuscripts provided by Mitchell's family, and information provided by family members and friends of Mitchell. The dissertation correlates Mitchell's life to those of other women in the Christian tradition who demonstrated a commitment to aspects of Mitchell's experience. It overlays the simultaneous development in the Civil Rights Movement, African American culture, and African American Christianity that are relevant to Mitchell's experience.Through life experience and preaching, Mitchell demonstrates Galilea's three key components of liberation spirituality: a personal identification with the suffering of Christ, unity of faith and action through service and love, and a call to conversion for others due to a shared responsibility. These are each evident throughout Mitchell's life and manuscripts. Mitchell was born into a segregated state when women were not allowed to vote, chose to give freely to others and love them even as a child, and charged others to live with a sense of purpose and accountability. These characteristics are in clear alignment with the traits expressed by Galilea and provide a basis for viewing Mitchell's life as a lived expression of liberation spirituality.
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