As remembered by Elaine Baker
For those whose lives intersected with Francis Hamlin Mitchell in years past, some thoughts about the road he travelled since his days in SNCC. Mitchell passed from this earth last month, after 78 remarkable years, holding always to the truths and to the style that lay at the center of his existence. Francis loved truth and he loved freedom and he loved the character and spirit that propelled people to challenge the nonsense and injustices of the world and to break out of bondage, whatever form that bondage took for that particular individual. He loved to challenge ideas and the core notions that men and women held, but only if invited. Francis held to the premise that there was no such thing as an answer unless a question had first been asked. He had scant tolerance for fools, but tremendous compassion for the weakness and frailty of human nature. His standards were high, but he chose the role of an observer more often that that of a judge.
Francis loved the energy and irreverance of the counterculture and spent a good deal of time after 1965 moving in and out and on the fringes of a series of alternative and experimental life styles and organizing principles, including but not limited to bands, boats, architecturul solutions for native and low-income communities, music of all kinds, communes and the expatriot/inidenous community of Jelapa, Mexico. Never one to be slowed down by material posessions, Francis would appear and depart, always welcome when he arrived, moving on when the time was right to the next stop in his "circuit" of friends and loved ones. He always had a book with him and the African drum that was both his companion and suitcase. Francis stayed with my husband and our family in each of the many houses that we lived in over three decades, sometimes for a few days on his way from here to there, sometimes for months. The conversations that we shared at the end of the day lingered long after he left and are with me still.
Francis had a disdain for water and vegetables, a love of youthful energy and a fondness for herb. He was as comfortable reflecting on the classics as he was dissecting politics or in shooting pool. As a friend, it was sometimes difficult for me to distinguish between Francis's enthusiastic pursuit of new approaches to life and what often appeared as a perpetual journey to distance himself from the pain of living in an unjust society. Francis drank more as he advanced in years, but the arc of his life never changed, nor did his friends, who recognized his brilliance as well as his pain and adored him for the pure spirit that struggled with this tarnished world we share.
In the decades following the sixties the geographical anchors of Francis's life were Mexico and southern Colorado, but in recent years he frequently visited with his children and their children. Francis had recently retunred from Mexico and was visiting with his son, Tony, in California when he collapsed, passing from this life a short time later. His granddaughter amd her husband are collecting his writings for the family archives. I would be honored to forward any thoughts or stories that individuals would like to share with the family.
Elaine DeLott Baker
As remembered by Sheila
For those who might not have crossed paths with Francis Mitchell, he was one of the first Black photographers for "Life" magazine. He had also worked for "Ebony". He was older than most of us in the Movement & I think did not come South until '63 or '64.
I knew him mostly from the years he lived in New York, with Johnnie (aka Johanna) Winchester, who had taught & been an administrator in the Freedom Schools, in Hattiesburg. I had wanted to do an oral history with him, but he was difficult to reach, as he lived a few miles from Denver & had no telephone. He had a problem with alcohol in the later part of his life & his guardian angels were Elaine DeLott Baker & her husband. She was to take me down to do an OH with him, in 2001, but he left for his place in Mexico before she could contact him about it.
Francis was brilliant. He really almost convinced me that the revolution was at hand, in the late '60s, early '70s: his logic seemed so tight that whatever he said seemed reasonable. I'd come away dazzled, whenever we spent evenings together. You might remember him because of his (often)"Don King" hairdo.
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