SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER, 1963
"She Openeth Her Mouth With 'Wisdom;
And in Her Tongue is the Law of Kindness"
Some there be whose personali
ties are such powerful agencies for
the good that, whether physically
present or not, their’s is a rich bequest
constantly available to those would
profit from it.
Edna Mitchell, in physical terms,
left for an appointment with her
Maker on August 8, 1963.
Edna Mitchell, in spiritual terms,
will not have left this campus several
dozen college generations hence.
From all constructive viewpoints,
she is on extended vacation. People
like her do not “die”.
There once were three sisters, known
to the Elizabeth City community as
Jane and Phoebe Overton and Fanny
Fanny married a gentleman named
Hugh Cale. Cale served as a Pasquo
tank county commissioner and Mrs.
Cale as a school teacher. Later her
husband went off to Raleigh where
as a member of the North Carolina
State Legislature he saw to it that an
important Bill was introduced—A
Bill which grew from a piece of paper
to an Elizabeth City State College.
Meanwhile, Cale’s in-laws, Phoebe
Overton and her husband, saw to it
that the family was enlarged and in
due course undertook to rear their
Mary V. Overton became a grown
woman, married Samuel W. Harris
of Hertford County, and on Decem
ber 10, 1901 they became the proud
parents of a daughter named Edna
What- would be more natural than
Edna’s schooling taking place at
the institution established by her
great-aunt’s husband? There the I
ager finished in 1917 those courses
available to her (two years of high
school), under the aegis of a certain
Peter Weddick Moore. Edna Harris
then emulated her great-uncle, Hugh,
and also went off to Raleigh.
Her “Bill” there however, was
a legislative enactment but a bachelor
of science degree from Shaw Univer
sity which she won in 1923 after six
years of work. With this in hand,
Edna promptly came home, applied
to and was accepted by Dr. Moon
a teacher at her first alma mater.
Twenty-one years old Edna Harris
began demonstrating loyalty to I
school from the beginning. Quietly
was her manner, but inexorably
was her fiber, she also began insisting
from the beginning upon her
dents’ giving their constant attention
The young preceptress felt that
“others should live up to all that the
institution stood for,” to quote her
sister, Blanche (Mrs. Harold Newell),
herself an alumna of Edna’s school,
Or, to use the quotation and charac
terization by the student editors of
The Normal Light (yearbook for 19
26): “ ‘Young ladies and gentlemen you
just ought to get this.’ You can’t fool
Miss Harris; she knows when you
study and marks accordingly.”
Edna Harris did part-time library
work, taught a foreign language,
laugh English and was once chair
man of the English department. She
turned up in 1929 as an advisor to
the State Normal Banner. In 1936
she was an advisor to the S. N. S.
(State Normal School) Monthly. Later
she would become the institution’s
director of publications and a pro
fessor of English. Love for the beauties
of her native tongue and for printer’s
ink had come to the forefront; there
By now, John Bias was her presi
dent since Peter W. Moore had become
President Emeritus; and by now, Edia
Harris had become Mrs. James Jeffer
son Mitchell (December 23, 1936).
By December 1948, Harold L.
Trigg had served as president; former
Dean Sidney D. Williams had suc
ceeded him; and a journalistic effort
some seven years old had begun to
improve upon its preceeding issues
under the'advisorship of Mrs. Mit
chell. This newspaper was then called
the State Teachers College News
In November 1950 Mrs. Mitchell
enlarged the Newsletter; in December
1958, she did so again (this time to its
present size); and in October 1960,
she became advisor to the Compass,
a name change having first choice
among the student body. Student
Council and with the administration
and President. The next issue of the
Compass bore its own medallion,
designed by Hugh Bullock, Art In
If the publication expanded o”-
campus, so its staff also expanded,
both quantitatively and in terms of
geographical sphere of operations.
For the latter, Mrs. Mitchell made
sure that selected students journeyed
each March to Columbia University
(source of her A. M. degree) for
annual conventions of the Columbia
Scholastic Press Association. (The
Compass, or Newsletter, had been a
member of the Association since
More important however, is the
fact that since that date as well as
before it, many a student had ex
perienced professional and personal
growth by being directly associated
with the paper and through its activ-
ties, with Mrs. Mitchell. “She al
ways advised students to retain faith
in s!!lf and in God, strongly opposed
mediocrity and encouraged excellence
on the part of the student,” wrote
Thelma Howard, now a senior.
Such thoughts, shared widely, help
explain Edna Mitchell’s being hailed
by studer.ts in a page one newsletter
item (March, 1948) or honored
by the Women’s Government Asso-
ciation in May 1960 as “a person who
has made a contribution and example
for the students of ... (the) college
These are some of the tangibles;
what of the intangibles? This is al
ways the difficult question to answer
satisfactorily but perhaps the poem
on this page helps indicate answers.
Perhaps the following except from
the program for her last rites also
In her forty years of service she
became known as a master teach
er and counsellor, became senior
member of the faculty in years
of service, and earned a special
place of highest personal and
professional regard among ad
ministrators, alumni, faculty and
It is most striking that here was a
woman who could gather nothing
but accolades during her earthly
sojourn under every president this in
stitution has had. It is difficult to
hear a hard word about Edna Mit-'
Blue-jeaned laborers and faddish,
sophomores; children who knew her
and sophisticated doctors of philoso
phy; whomever it is. the reminiscence
This also implies that Mrs. Mitchell
was active on and off campus. It says,
as the spiritual has it, that This I ittle
Light o’ Mine’ was allowed to shine
wherever Edna Mitchell went. One
may quote the obituary again:
Early in her life she showed great
talents, keen interest and constant
willingness to work with those around
and the Elizabeth City Alumni Chap
ter the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
With all these activities, Mrs.
Mitchell was yet closely knit to her
family: her daughter, Sylvia Clare
of Philadelphia; her sisters, Mrs. Pearl
Shannon and Mrs. Blanche Newell of
her. These qualities she carried into
her chosen profession of teaching. A
lifelong faithful member of Corner
Stone Baptist Church, she was a dedi
cated contributor (to) and supporter
of the entire program of that Church.
She was a constant and tireless work
er in community organizations. She
held offices, from time to time, in
the Matrons Social Literary and Art
Club, the Faculty Women’s Club, the
Cheerful We Club, the National As
sociation of College Women’s Clubs
To Mrs. Mitchell |
Mrs. Mitchell, now has come the day
That I must be on my way.
Still in my mind, you will remain,
’Cause life without you won’t be the
Thoughts of you will still linger
’Tho my College Days
With you as my guid;
I shall march on with pride.
In search for a loftier throne.
Although my work here is ending,} School (Elizabeth City),
Elizabeth City; her brother, Rufus
Harris of Clarksville, Virginia; and
certainly her husband, James J.
Mitchell of the P. W. Moore High
Nor did academic pursuits suffer.
As highly thought of as a teacher
as she was as a newspaper advisor,
she sought additional experiences
from which her students might be
come legatees. These experiences in
cluded advanced graduate study at
Sarah Lawrence College, Antioch Col
lege and New York University.
There came, finally, August 12,
1963 — a time when an overflow
of persons who would do homage,
gathered in the building wherein was
her office and named for him who
first employed her. These persons
heard J. S. Bach, other composers,
spirituals, speak through music thus;
things which strong men and wcmen
could not put entirely into words.
Isaac A. Battle, president of the
General Alumni Association, the
Reverend J. E. Trolman of St. Steph
ens Baptist Church. Miss Queenie E.
Ferebee of the Trigg Elementary
them and the organizations they rep
resented; to express those thoughts
occasioned in bold relief by her sud
den and shocking death.
She once heard in recital a group
of Elizabeth City high school organ
students and felt they should be heard
on campus. They performed in June
1963. Two months later, subdued in
mien, they returned, this time to play
the organ while she lay in state.
I Others of them returned to sing in the
choir of her beloved church; still
others “just wanted to be on hand”
for the last rites as a gesture of re
The Corner Stone Choir joined in
the snug eulogy with the College Choir
both directed by her close friend,
Evelyn A. Johnson, who years ago
came to the College upon Mrs. Mit
chell’s initial persuasion.
On Sunday, September 15, 1963,
there came perhaps the most succinct
summary of her life given by Presi
dent Walter N. Ridley as he ad
dressed the class of 1967 during its
Candlelighting Ceremonies: “She was
a light to those around her.”
Thelma Howard, a faithful worker
on the Compass staff recently se
lected these words to characterize her
A face serene . . .
A word of thought . . .
Such high esteem this leader sought
to give to those around her.
In cognizance of so much that she
was, and is, to this publication, the
Compass thinks that it can do no less
than try to perpetuate some rays of
that “light” of which Dr. Ridley
spoke; no less than try to build higher
on ‘How Firm a Foundation’ Edna
Harris Mitchell hath wrought.
Requiescat in pace
COMMENCEMENT, MAY 1963 (MRS. MITCHELL IS THIRD FROM LEFT)
I have just reached my beginning. | Ridley and the Reverend Dr. J. R. R.
For I have much to say yet— - McRay of Mrs. Mitchell’s own Cor-
That is — YOU — I shall NEVER j ner Stone Church, all gathered to ex-
FORGET! i press as best they could those things j
—Clarence E. Biggs | which Professor Mitchell meant tol At Columbia University. March, 1963