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Members of the Stillwater and OSU communities are planning a celebration to honor the late Earl and Bernice Mitchell for their impact, both academically at OSU and through their civic contributions.
The celebration — “Celebrating Stillwater’s Black History: Honoring Earl and Bernice Mitchell and Washington School” — will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Stillwater History Museum in the Sheerar, 702 S. Duncan St. It will feature a brief program at 6 p.m. and a New Orleans jazz band and décor representing the Mitchells’ original home in Louisiana before they relocated to Stillwater in the mid-1960s.
Earl Mitchell, who died June 2 at the age of 83, first joined OSU as a research associate in 1967. He became OSU’s first Black tenure-track faculty member in 1969. By the time he earned tenure in 1982, he was already recognized as a highly accomplished academic researcher and biochemist. He went on to serve in key administrative positions, such as assistant dean of the graduate college, associate vice president for multicultural affairs and the first director of the Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (OK-LSAMP).
Bernice, who preceded her husband in death by less than a month, was a similarly revered figure, both at OSU and the Stillwater community. She was instrumental in helping to form what would become the precursor to the Women’s Faculty Council at OSU, served as county commissioner for Payne County — making history as just the second woman elected in Oklahoma to a county commissioner post and the first Black person to be elected co-commissioner in Payne County — and has received many awards for her civic contributions, particularly to the advancement of women’s issues in Oklahoma.
“Bernice and Earl were true role models for many,” said event co-organizer Mike Woods, OSU professor emeritus. “They focused on serving their neighbors in our community, our county and our state. They wanted everyone to have access to opportunity for growth and success.
“They were such integral parts of our community — both at OSU and in Stillwater — that we believe a joint acknowledgement of their contributions and lives would be both fun and appropriate.”
The event, which will be hosted by the Friends of Bernice and Earl Mitchell, also will serve as a springboard to raise funds for a new, tax-deductible scholarship created in the Mitchells’ name.
The scholarship will benefit outstanding students involved in OSU’s Division of Institutional Diversity.
“Earl and Bernice Mitchell were trailblazers,” said Dr. Jason Kirksey, OSU vice president for institutional diversity and chief diversity officer. “As we celebrate their legacy, we are reminded of their great example and how we too can make a lasting impact on the world around us. I look forward to seeing the university community and the city come together to celebrate the Mitchells and continue their amazing legacy through this new scholarship.”
There will be an opportunity to donate at the event. For more information about the celebration, visit cfok.org/scfmitchell. For more information about the scholarship, or other event details, contact Mike Woods at 405-880 1521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The reception will be in conjunction with Black History Month. Along with the celebration for Bernice and Earl, it will include Dr. Laura Arata’s Washington School exhibit and the Stillwater History Museum in the Sheerar open house.