June 5, 2020, marked the 49th anniversary of the death of Mose Wendell Mitchell, 29, at the hands of police officers in East Cleveland, Ohio.
My brother was an industrial arts teacher at Shaw High School and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, where his nickname on boxing fight cards was “Kid Sip.” Though he never earned the rank of Eagle Scout, Mose was awarded a free trip while in high school to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Also, as a 17-year-old he was considered responsible enough that the Iuka School Board gave him the job of school bus driver, transporting the black students during segregation from Iuka to Easom High School in Corinth.
Since my family usually had two kids in college at a time, Mose – preferring to be called Wendell in college and later – left Jackson State for the Marines after his freshman year, to later take advantage of the G.I. Bill to finish his college education. He returned after four years of military duty to complete his degree.
The incident that led to Mose’s death was precipitated by an encounter with a white woman. He was walking home on a Saturday morning after checking on a project he had going at his school. A woman backing out of her driveway almost hit him as he walked along the sidewalk, and he rapped on her car with a walking cane that he carried. She called the police, and some distance later he was confronted by five police officers. After handcuffing him and throwing him to the ground, one of the officers shot him, and one officer was even shot in the foot by another officer.
At the time I was a college student in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with my two older sisters well-established in their careers in Philadelphia. My younger sister, the youngest in our family, had just completed her freshman year at Ole Miss. Of my six other brothers, one was still serving in Vietnam and two others were nearing completion of their degrees, also veterans using the G.I. Bill. Our two oldest brothers were veterans of the Korean War.
I seldom speak of Mose’s death, and the only time I have written about it – but without including his name – was March 15, 2015, in a column about the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, last week the New York Times wrote that as the National Park Service began taking down the temporary fences that had been constructed in front of the White House, nine curators from three Smithsonian Museums were taking the signs off the fence that included stories from around the nation of previously unnamed victims at the hands of law enforcement that had been put up as memorials. The curators planned to add those names and stories to their collections.
Mose had been married two years, but he and his wife had not started a family. He has no children or grandchildren, now only me and one other surviving sibling to remember him.
This moment in history seems a fitting time to acknowledge the life of this honorable man who was my brother.