Elizabeth Mitchell is a retired postal service worker who adores exploring the world around her. She’s visited sites here in the United States and traveled to at least twenty countries besides. She says her love of travel comes from her desire to see the history she’s only read about in books. However, Elizabeth didn’t always have the deep passion for historical study that she does today. In fact, when I asked what started her love of the subject, she told me it all started with an argument.
When she was twenty years old and working at the Indianapolis Police Department, a white colleague of hers attempted to disparage the historical contributions of Black people throughout American history. Determined to prove him wrong, Elizabeth started digging. Soon, she told me, this research “became a passion because it was so exciting to discover these things.” Her passion became a driving force, and she began traveling all over the country with her best friend, Marsha, excited to experience history in person.
Elizabeth’s historical research didn’t stop with reading and travel. She began actively implementing that work into tangible products like performances, podcasts, and historic preservation work. Her favorite project? The renewal of the West Baden First Baptist Church in West Baden Springs, Indiana. “It’s a labor of love,” says Elizabeth about the project. The history of the church can be traced back to the thriving Black community of West Baden Springs in the 1920s. In a time where Black citizens had to meet all their communal needs within their own communities, the church was at the center.
Today, the renewal project has left Elizabeth in awe of the way the modern communities of West Baden Springs and French Lick have come together in support. “I can’t say enough about how these people have opened their arms for us,” says Elizabeth. More than once, those working on the restoration have found five- and ten-dollar bills stuck in the doors of the church; anonymous donations from locals and passers-by to aid in the project. Recently, Elizabeth took a trip to take a photograph of the church at night, wanting a different perspective of the over one hundred-year-old structure. After she’d turned the lights on and went outside, she became emotional. “In its time, this church was a beacon of light for the community. I realized then that it was still that beacon of light.”
At the end of our nearly hour-long conversation, I asked Elizabeth a question she said she’d never been asked before: if you could go back to when you started this work, what advice would you give yourself? After thinking for a moment, she knew exactly what she’d tell that twenty-year-old young woman, researching to win that argument. “You just keep pushing. You just keep moving forward, keep reading, keep asking questions.” And this author believes that those words are the perfect reminder for any aspiring Humanities Hero. Keep pushing, keep reading, keep asking questions, because determination is its own superpower.