Since 1997 Sollie Mitchel has been a retired man of leisure. Always an activist, he spends time working toward helping to build a better community. In honor of that continued commitment, elected officials, community leaders and friends turned out for a surprise impromptu lunch to honor his 98th birthday. The lunch was held at Clara’s at the Cathedral sponsored by the Clara White Mission Culinary Arts program.
“He usually spends his Fridays at Clara’s, so I thought it would be a great idea to surprise him there”, said Donna Rash- Sawyer. Sawyer had the idea of inviting Mitchell’s friends to surprise him. “He does so much for so many,” she said.
Over the years Mitchell has raised thousands of dollars for Edward Waters College through his leadership with the Masons.
“Sollie Mitchell continues to be such as inspiration”, said Maguerite Warren who was on hand with a tribute from EWC Alumni. Several years ago EWC Alumni inducted Mitchell as an honorary member. Although he didn’t graduate from EWC, Mitchell always values education.
“I went to Florida Memorial [which was Normal at that time] down in St. Augustine. I used to get up in the morning and ride my bicycle for three hours to get there. I did that until I was drafted into WW II,” said Mitchell.
He toured the world as a soldier and eventually returning to Jacksonville for a career in the railroad industry. “When I came back I ended up getting married and my mother-in-law had gone to school with a fellow who was a leader on the railroad. She introduced me and he took me under his wing and mentored me like a son. I learned so much from him, especially how to negotiate”.
That ‘fellow’ that he speaks about with so much passion is A. Phillip Randolph. Randolph was a Civil Rights icon whose early work brought about the end of segregation in the US Armed Forces. He also was instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington.
One of the many people who came out to honor Mitchell was Florida State Representative Reggie Fullwood. Mitchell affectionately refers to Fullwood as his ‘cousin’. “Just speaking with Cousin Sollie is like taking a walk through history,” said Fullwood. “I’m just excited to be here with him”.
Mitchell said that he was truly surprised to have so many come out for him but he says that living a good life is what it’s all about. “I have a good life. I had a wife of 62 years and we did everything together. Even though she’s gone I still love her. Having that love and remembering to treat others like you want to be treated is what has kept me here this long”. Pictured is Sollie with birthday surprise organizer Donna Rash-Sawyer and songstress Akia Uwanda.