Since the summer of 2020, with the protests and riots that stemmed from the unlawful killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers, many comparisons have been made between the civil unrest in America today and that of the 1960s when both the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests had reached their tipping points.
Emmitt Mitchell, the boy who was once yelled at by a young white lady for drinking out of the same water fountain as her son, experienced firsthand both of these defining moments in history for black Americans and has concluded that today’s battle—for all American families, black, white, Hispanic . . . everyone—is by far the bigger one.
But perhaps what most would find surprising is what Mitchell means by this. He’s not talking about social injustices still found throughout the country. He’s not referring to the unfortunate shootings of young black people by police officers. What Emmitt Mitchell is implying when he suggests that today’s culture battle is bigger than the one he played a personal role in during the ‘60s is that the resulting teachings assaulting our children by mainstream America, including by the public school system and the progressive higher education system, known as Critical Race Theory are straight out of “the pit of hell,” as Mitchell describes it.
“I feel sorry for young parents today,” Mitchell reflects, “because this is the battle of their day. It’s bigger than the civil rights battle that I had to fight, because they’re fighting for the soul of their children. We may have been fighting for some freedoms, like drinking out of a water fountain or sitting at a lunch counter. But Critical Race Theory is about children being taught the methods that will take them straight to hell.”
Emmitt Mitchell’s Battle as a Young Man
After giving his life over to Jesus and reuniting with his wife, Emmitt’s dad, Thurman, moved the family to Wichita, Kansas, a city Emmitt describes as “a little better [than Guthrie, Oklahoma], but still segregated . . . still one of the most racist cities in the nation.” To Emmitt and his mom’s relief, there were no white and colored water fountains, but a black person still couldn’t eat at the drug store counters and restaurants.
By the time Emmitt and his older brother Thurman had grown into young men, they and their friends had had enough of Jim Crow and segregation. “Growing up in that environment, our generation just said, ‘We’re not gonna take it. We are gonna change it or die.’” His parents’ generation didn’t agree with their kids’ rebellion. Of course they didn’t care for the injustices and segregation that still enveloped them every day, but considering where they had come from—and especially the horrid atrocities their parents and grandparents had experienced—they liked what they had at that time as blacks in America. They had grown content with the lifestyles they had achieved so far, segregated or not.
But Emmitt, Thurman, and others in their generation didn’t feel the same, so they decided to take their frustrations, as well as a few rocks, to the streets. And when the cops came to move them, they simply said they wouldn’t budge. They would stand their ground. Describing their plans, Emmitt said, “We knew that if we didn’t move, one or two of them [police officers] couldn’t move five hundred of us. So the cops would have to mobilize too. And when they did that, we’d bring out thousands.”
This became their way of standing up for themselves in the early to mid-’60s. Gathering in the streets and not moving when the police showed up. “Any Friday or Saturday night, we’d just ask, “Where we gonna gather?’” Emmitt recalls. He also admits that there was no looting. Not because they were better than that back then but because “no one had yet thought of that. We were just confronting police.”
In 1967, the Vietnam War was raging, and for a family with so much proud military history, one may have thought that Emmitt and Thurman would consider enlisting in the army and joining the war overseas. But their mother, Hazel, put an immediate end to anything like that happening. “You are not gonna go into that war,” she told her boys. “That has nothin’ to do with us!”
And if there was one thing the boys were sure of, even in the rebellious stage of life they were in back then, it was that they had to listen to Hazel Mitchell, the strong matriarch of their family. If she didn’t want them joining the war in Vietnam, then the matter was closed. Meanwhile, however, the protests on the streets of Wichita were beginning to become violent. And if they couldn’t join the army to help their country, then both Emmitt and Thurmon knew that something had to be done to help their community.
“Someone had to do something,” Emmitt says about this decision-making time. “It was getting dangerous. The elements that were coming out on the street were starting to destroy property. People were getting hurt. It was no longer just a revolutionary gang. It was getting serious.”
Undoubtedly to the surprise of many of the young, angry black men they had been previously throwing rocks at cars with on the streets, Emmitt and Thurmon made the incredibly bold decision to join the police academy and eventually became two of only nine black police officers on a force of three hundred. According to Emmitt, “Very few [of his black friends] could qualify for the academy. I qualified because they never caught me. I didn’t have a record.”
For obvious reasons, the Wichita police officers at the time were not trusted by the black community, so Emmitt and Thurman considered if they could help stifle the growing violence by putting on the uniform and patrolling the black neighborhoods themselves.
Though he and his brother were not received well by the vast majority of their fellow officers, including Emmitt’s watch commander who always used the same colorful, racist phrase to describe his newest black officer, Emmitt set out to do all he could to stop the next eruption in his community. He knew that any stopped car, any nightclub brawl, any family disturbance that called for police intervention could kick off a riot.
“You had to know how to handle it,” Emmitt says now. Because of how racist many of the Wichita officers were at the time, Emmitt had to tell them, “Don’t ever come on my beat. I don’t want you to come help me. If you hear that there’s an officer in trouble, don’t come, ‘cause I might shoot you!”
But since he had spent so much time on the street himself before joining the police force, everyone Emmitt had to deal with on the streets as an officer already knew him, and he could act as a mediator, which helped tremendously. As well, the precedent he and his brother set by going from the streets to the academy also began to help the overall scene in Wichita. Within two years, the number of black officers in the city had grown from nine to twenty-five, with several new black officers coming up through the academy every class.
Emmitt’s mom had convinced him that Vietnam had nothing to do with them. The war over there wasn’t the battle for them. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a battle closer to home for him to join. Emmitt and his brother Thurman not only joined it; they affected it in ways others could not have and paved the way for other black men and women to continue the work that needed to be done in the community.
Looking back at this monumental time for all of America—the riots, the fights for civil liberties, the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King Jr.—Emmitt thinks back to the young white mom in the Five and Dime store with nothing to explain her uncalled-for anger except for, “But it’s the law!” He recalls his watch commander at the Wichita Police Department who never had a nice word for him. About the change of hearts and attitudes he saw happening during this time, he says today, “It was a growing up for the nation. Martin Luther King freed a lot of people, but only a few of them were black. Most of them were white.”
The Battle Today
“Race is not a biblical concept,” Emmitt stands by today. “God separated people into nations, languages, and tribes. Race comes from the other side—from the atheists, the godless people.” The idea of race, according to Mitchell, comes out of evil. He holds up the atheist “bible” as exhibit A—Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, with the subtitle many are not aware of today: The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.
The preservation of favored races. That is the goal of the godless. But as Emmitt is anxious to share with anyone who will listen, the goal of the Christ follower is found in John 17:11, where Jesus prayed to the Father, “That they may be one as we are one.” And according to Mitchell, a Christlike unity is the last thing the elements behind Critical Race Theory and organizations such as Black Lives Matter are seeking.
Emmitt Mitchell does not mince words when discussing the battles being fought today in the classrooms, conference rooms, and court rooms that stem from these recent movements in the culture. “Critical Race Theory is a bunch of foolishness,” he says bluntly. “And just look at what Scripture says about foolishness.”
Indeed, Ecclesiastes 4:13 says, “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning.” And in Jeremiah 5:21-22, the people are warned, “‘Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear. Should you not fear me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Should you not tremble in my presence?’”
“There is no sin in Critical Race Theory,” Emmitt explains as the reason for his harsh criticism. “There’s only oppressors and the oppressed.”
Explaining further, Emmitt says, “A lot of people in this land have been hurt, harmed, and abused through slavery and Jim Crow. But that is ours. Black people suffered that. The white people who performed that persecution, and those they persecuted . . . most of them are dead. But we have that heritage left between black people and white people in this country, if you want to divide the nation like that. What that precludes is somebody coming in from the outside and saying, ‘Look what those people did to you and your relatives! You should be angry!’ And they tell the other group, ‘You should be ashamed! You should feel guilty!’ What you’ve done there is created a situation where somebody is in between the offender and the offended that shouldn’t be there. They have no dog in this fight. That’s what we’re seeing now with these groups like Black Lives Matter. That’s a socialist organization with a socialist agenda. All they can see is oppression, with oppressors and oppressed. Nowhere in those two blocks is room for reconciliation or repentance or forgiveness.
“God’s plan is, there was sin, and then He created a way for repentance and reconciliation with Him. That’s the only way human problems can be adequately and realistically solved. Critical Race Theory removes those elements, which makes it a philosophy from the pit of hell meant to destroy human beings.”
Proponents of Critical Race Theory would label James Mallory, the Choctaws and Chickawas, the US Army, every white person at that train stop in Ottawa, the white woman at the Five and Dime, and the Wichita Police Department as all oppressors and do their best to convince Emmitt and his family to remain angry at every last one of them.
But they chose God’s plan instead. They chose to forgive, to seek reconciliation, to live in the light.
Emmitt Mitchell’s family always chose to remember who they belonged to. And it was never James Mallory, or the Choctaws and Chickasaws, or the US Army, or the Wichita Police Department. Nor did they belong to Satan or any of his movements that have attempted since creation to convince people there was no sin, and therefore no need for redemption and reconciliation.
Emmitt’s American story began on a slave-trading block in Tennessee, when his fourteen-year-old great-great-grandma was bought by a wealth-seeking Texas land owner named James Mallory. But his full story began on a cross in Calvary when Jesus bought out the payment for all mankind’s sin. For Emmitt’s, Nancy’s, the driver’s, Grandma McMillian’s, David Franklin’s, Frank Mitchell’s, Thurmon and Hazel’s . . . Jesus bought them all. They belong to Him, and Him alone. No one else . . . ever. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:23, “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.”
They belong to Jesus, who brought them to America for a reason . . . “for such a time as this.”
“The suffering that black people endured in this country was not for nothing,” Emmitt concludes. “It was for God’s purpose. I don’t think we are here by chance. There is a unique brand of Christianity that came up in suffering and grew to maturity in a suffering people. There’s a zeal for the Lord that you can’t get anywhere else.”
From Nancy to Emmitt, and to his children and grandchildren now . . . the family chose to live in the light, not in the dark. And that is the question Emmitt Mitchell leaves us all to consider. “The difference for every individual, no matter their story or their color, is are you living in the dark or are you living in the light? And is your light shining?”
Read part 1 of this 4-part series on the family journey of D. L. Moody Center CEO Emmitt Mitchell.