James Mitchell

James Mitchell

Sunday, December 16th, 1934 - Saturday, September 21st, 2019
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In Memoriam
James Mitchell
December 16, 1934 – September 21, 2019

James Mitchell, farm worker and farm worker organizer, a man of few words but a tireless and meticulous worker, died on September 21, 2019 at Southside Hospital from the aftereffects of a stroke in December 2016. He was almost 85 years old.
Born in Portsmouth, Virginia on December 16, 1934 to Geneva Cardwell and Ollie Johnson, James assumed the surname of his stepfather Alfred Mitchell. Alfred died when James was fifteen, leaving him the head of the household, caring for his mother and younger brother and sister. James worked on a beer truck, in construction and stocking shelves in a supermarket, which paid no wages, but provided food for his family.
James quit school before finishing the sixth grade to support his family. After his sister married, with his responsibility to the household lessened, James was approached by the assistant of a crew chief (who contracted to provide workers to farmers to grade potatoes and crate cabbage), asking if he wanted to make a lot of money. James said “yes” and left on the spot. He spent 29 years as a migrant worker, traveling from Virginia to Maryland, then to Delaware, Long Island, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and back to Delaware, and lost contact with his mother and siblings.
Many farmers recognized James as an exceptional, meticulous worker with tremendous endurance who made sure the toughest jobs were done right. On many days James and nineteen other men loaded four tractor-trailers with ten skids each, with 45 50-lbs bags of potatoes per skid. At 5’6” James made hundreds of trips to the truck with a 50-lb bag of potatoes under each arm. Often after a long day of grading potatoes James would clean the vat the potatoes had been washed in, to make extra money.
James met volunteer organizers with the Eastern Farm Workers Association (EFWA) in 1982 in Riverhead, became a member and started volunteering at EFWA’s office in the Riverhead Community Service Center (RCSC). He became a delegate to the Workers Benefit Council (WBC) in 1984 and helped build the Grape Workers Committee in 1985.
In 1983 James contracted tuberculosis, met volunteer doctors from Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals (CCMP), who working with farm workers and organizers to expose the TB epidemic and force the county to treat the curable, but deadly, disease. James found himself fighting to be cured rather than on the casualty list. With his TB in remission he became an EFWA cadre in May 1986, and a full-time organizer in April 1988.
James worked tirelessly helping Clifford Cody pick up and repair donated cars He coordinated the Printing System, learning how to run offset presses and mimeographs and fix photocopy machines. He staffed literature and baked goods tables, helped build the food pantry and front counter in the 58 Beaver Dam Rd. office, before EFWA purchased and renovated the entire building.
After the office purchase in 1998, James led work teams to clean out the other units of the building so they could be renovated. In 2001 he became an Administrative Assistant.
James suffered a stroke in 2003, compromising his ability to walk, but continued to work in the EFWA office, running the daily supporter letter mailout. In December, 2016 James had another stroke from which he never recovered.
James was known by many for his deadpan and subtle sense of humor, which helped build good working relationships with everyone
He will be missed by thousands of EFWA members and volunteers and by his fellow organizers in Suffolk County and around the country.
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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Friday, October 4th, 2019 | 11:00am - 1:00pm
    Friday, October 4th, 2019 11:00am - 1:00pm
  • Interment

    Riverhead Cemetery


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