Allen Mitchell wanted people to learn about Gullah culture.
Allen Mitchell always encouraged people to learn something, his daughter Wendy Brown says. To him, each day a person lived and each thing he did, presented learning opportunities.
He encouraged learning about many things especially about history and heritage.
“He wanted us to know our Gullah culture,” Brown says. “He just didn’t want that history to die. He wanted every generation to know it, even when we no longer spoke the language.
“A lot of his interest in the history came from documenting our own family history,” she says. “He probably was what you would call an amateur genealogist. He really admired Alex Haley.”
Mitchell, who wrote the book “Wadmalaw Island: Leaving Traditional Roots Behind,” published by Boar Hog Tree Press (1996), died Sept. 2 at 70. Mitchell, whose family is from Wadmalaw, grew up on the peninsula, graduated from Burke High School, served in the Navy, attended Denmark Technical College, earned a bachelor’s degree from LaSalle University and lived away for four decades.
He was a logistics manager for the federal government. One of the places he lived was Roslyn, Pa., where he served as NAACP president. He returned to South Carolina and moved to Wadmalaw 10 years ago.
His wife, Bennia Mitchell, says Mitchell had long thought about working with young people and seniors. He encouraged young people to get an education, start a business or gain professional experience and return to Wadmalaw to serve and share knowledge. He also wanted to make a way for the community’s seniors to take trips.
Bennia Mitchell says her husband also was interested in the development of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor by the National Park Service. He wanted people on Wadmalaw to play their role in sharing the culture as the corridor brought more attention to the area.
Brown, who lives in Delaware, says when family or friends visited from out of town, her father had a routine.
“He had his little tour that he would take us on. It was a driving tour where he could stop and tell us who we were and where we came from and what happened along the way. One of his goals was to have a touring company about the islands and Gullah culture.”
His sister-in-law, Mildred Mitchell, talks about his passion for sharing his heritage as well. Talking about his family’s roots, she says, was also important when he traveled.
Mitchell would compare the way other people’s African-American ancestors had lived with the way his had lived on Wadmalaw, she says. And whenever the Mitchells traveled to the Caribbean, he would seek out and compare folkways with native residents.
“He always wanted to go to Africa. He was passionate about wanting to go to Sierra Leone. But he was never able to go there.”
In the 10 years since Mitchell returned, he supported those on Wadmalaw and beyond in many ways, Mildred Mitchell says.
He championed building the dock on the island at Cherry Point, worked as a member of the Burke High School Foundation to provide two $10,000 scholarships to graduating students each year, hosted the 50th class reunion of Burke’s class of 1961 at his home, and raised funds for scholarships to Denmark Technical College.
Mitchell also directed the Wadmalaw Island Community Center for two years, chaired a couples’ ministry and assisted in the youth ministry at New Bethlehem Baptist Church, and worked with the church’s board to have a new edifice built.
“We worked on a lot of committees,” his sister-in-law says. “If he had a belief, he wanted to see it out there. There was no stopping him. He wanted things done properly.”
When he’d ask if she understood his vision, she would respond: “Allen, only God knows what you are saying. I don’t.”
Mitchell had a wall of plaques recognizing his many contributions, but few people saw them, Mildred Mitchell says. He did not want it to appear as if he was bragging.
He never forgot a person or an organization from his past, his sister-in-law says. Those who grew up with him on the peninsula were his pallbearers.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.