Ohio Values | Barbara Mitchell-King

As told to Josy Jones

Every four years, America turns its attention to Ohio. And for good reason. The Midwestern flyover state has voted for the winning presidential candidate in 29 of the last 31 presidential elections. That’s from 1896 on.

In the days before COVID-19, journalists from six news outlets from across the state came together to give local national and global audiences some advanced insights into our state’s electoral magic, straight from the people who know it best — Ohioans. All kinds.

They learned how to use the storygathering tool A Picture’s Worth and agreed to make the resulting content free and open for all to use, with credit to original sources, of course.

This audio story series, Ohio Values, is intentionally not political, although you will hear some stories that involve political topics and issues. Instead, we made an intentional choice to focus on our people, sharing photographs and stories about what they value the most, whether they’re heading into a voting booth or weathering a pandemic.

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For Barbara Mitchell-King, it all comes back to family and fairness. Coming from parents who did not always have the right to vote, Barbara took on voting as a badge of honor. Although her parents were able to attain the right to vote, Barbara still experiences the inequalities of being a Black woman in America. In her interview, she recounts injustices she’s experienced because of the color of her skin, emphasizing why having leaders who value equality is important to her. As a mother, aunt, and now grandmother, she emphasizes the importance of standing up for yourself and encouraging future generations of Black children to know that they are important, that they are loved, and that they will succeed, despite the world that we live in. In her picture for Ohio Values, she selected an image taken by her great nephew from a photoshoot with her family.

Below is a partial transcript from Josy Jones’s interview with Barbara. 

I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. My dad came from Oroville, Alabama, born in Morrisville, Alabama. My mom was born in Union Springs, Alabama and they both moved to Birmingham, Alabama and I am the youngest, then they came to Akron, Ohio in 1946.

This was a picture… It was a photoshoot that my great-nephew did. He is a photography student at University of Akron. It’s family in there, and I love family. I love the relationship I have with these two women, which is one is my sister. This young lady is my niece. [The] one to the left of me, with the black tee shirt, on is my sister. The lady with the striped shirt on is the mother of the young man that took the pictures. My sister had us all up to her place and we ate dinner, we took the pictures, and just kind of laughed and talked about the progress and the success that these children… the path that they’re on. Both children. Two of my nephews attend the University of Akron, one of the ones that took the picture and then the other one is going to school to become a psychologist.

It probably would be the obvious that there’s a lot of love between the three of us, that I enjoy being around them and they enjoy being around me as well. And we just had a good time. People don’t always realize that our faces portray something totally different than what’s going on on the inside. With some of the medical things I have going on, sometimes to get together with people that you love and love you, it’ll stop you from thinking about or feeling the physical pain and the emotional pain that it brings as a result of having this physical thing. This was the day when I was having pains for my fibromyalgia and arthritis, and it allowed me to not feel the intensity of that pain for that time that we were together, because there was love in the room. 

The first I heard of voting, I might’ve been seven or eight years old. I remember my parents going to vote. And I also remember, not real in-depth, but when I was younger, them speaking of, at one time, not even being able to vote. So it was a badge of honor to be able to go and vote because, of course, remembering my parents were both from the South. So, there was a time that voting wasn’t something that was made available to them. So being in the North, they had the right to vote, and not always easily. They didn’t always have an easy ride to get to voting. 

Let me tell you a scenario here that happened to me a few weeks ago. On Easter Sunday, My daughter and I had went by to see my granddaughter and my son and on… When we left there, since they live out by this Walmart in Stow, we decided we’d go to the Walmart in Stow. A gentleman — unfortunately, not to, you know, ‘cause I have no problem with anybody of any color — But the gentleman behind me was a white gentleman, so he was angry because I wasn’t going very fast. So, I let him go around me. We ended up at a red light at the same time. So I glanced over at this gentleman and looked at him like, ‘we ended up here at the same place. We’re both at the stoplight.’ And I kind of smirked and I was getting ready to turn my head. This man raised the gun to me. So I called the Stow police department, because I was in Stow and I gave them the license plate number. And so I called him back in a couple hours and they said to me, “Well, we didn’t find anybody with that description. Don’t couldn’t find the car.” In my mind’s eye, being a Black woman and knowing my history, my mind immediately went to equality. Unfortunately, had I been of another ethnicity, other than Black, I believe that the call would have been taken more seriously. Had I been, a white woman who would have placed this call and said that there was a black gentleman raised the gun to me; every police force would have been out looking. 

I have to be careful of retaliation, because when you speak up for yourself, being a Black individual, retaliatory measures are taken. And it takes you right back to the early 1900s when we, as black people, didn’t have any rights. So it’s like, OK, I need to walk on an eggshell. I would like to see equality. I would have liked to have heard, “well, you know what? We checked that license plate number. We traced it to an individual… We went to this person’s house, we found out this, that, and the other,” because who knows what was in that person’s mind. He could have went out and killed someone. I hope he didn’t. I hope he’s not anticipating to do so. But my call could have halted all of it. So yeah, equality is what I’m looking for.

I’m big on equality, and that’s probably something I will never see in my lifetime. I’m hoping in my grandchildren’s lifetime. I think that Black people have come a ways, but we yet have a ways to go. And until we stand up for ourselves and let the world know that we’re here, then we’ll never get to where we’re trying to get to. Until we let everyone in the world know that we are not less than, then we’re going to always be pushed down. I have faith in God to know that no weapon that is formed against me will prosper. 

I’m just big on equality. I’m big on fairness. I’m big on the things that would help someone to feel empowered no matter what color you are, you know? I have always been to my children, a motivator. Perfect I’m not, but I always wanted them to know that they were loved. I always wanted them to know that they can and will be successful. And the same way that I do with my grandchild. I think that it’s important to be able to look children in their eyes and point out their value, to just always encourage them to let them know how important they are. Because when you equip a child or children with that mechanism, especially children of color, they can go anywhere in the world and hear your voice in their ears. To know that, “if nobody else in this world loves me and cares for me, my mom and my grandmother do. And she told me out of her own mouth that I can and I will make it because I am wonderfully and uniquely made by the hands of God. And I am somebody, I always will be somebody, and I am important to her and to God. And with those two things in mind, I can and I will make it. I will make it through this struggle.”