Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Yaweh ben Yahweh Cult

A Colored Childhood

Map: Kingfisher, Oklahoma
Map: Kingfisher, Oklahoma

The tale of the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult reaches back to Kingfisher, Oklahoma, a tiny wheat town where Hulon Mitchell Jr. was born in 1935, the first of 15 children born to Pearl and Hulon Mitchell Sr.

His family, one of the few black families in town, was subjected to the full effect of Jim Crow South, forced to go to "colored" schools, stores, and movie houses.

Hulon Mitchell Sr.
Hulon Mitchell Sr.
His father, Hulon Sr., was a Holiness Pentecostal preacher, whose fervent services, complete with ecstatic dancing and speaking in tongues, were ridiculed by the townspeople, who were mainly Baptist; kids would gawk through the windows to watch the antics of the "holy rollers."

Mitchell listened intently as his father told his flock they would be rewarded in heaven for the religious and racial ostracism they endured on Earth. One of his favorite Bible tales was the Exodus story, in which Moses led the enslaved Israelites to freedom.

The family scraped by during the Depression, with Mitchell's father taking odd sales jobs and his mother working as a maid.

Mitchell, who was light-skinned like his mother and had hazel eyes, was a moody child, given to crying jags one moment and howling with laughter then next, according to Sydney Freedberg's exhaustive biography of Mitchell's life, "Brother Love."

In 1941, the family moved an hour north to Enid, Oklahoma. Although it was a larger town, blacks were still marginalized. In grade school, Mitchell joined a "colored" Boy Scout's troupe. In high school, he and his pals had to pack their own food and water when they tooled around in a beat-up junker, not knowing if they'd find a black-friendly place to buy food during their meanderings.

Vance Air Force Base
Vance Air Force Base

Mitchell was drafted at 18, and enlisted as an airman with the Vance Air Force Base in Enid. He married a teenage sweetheart and the couple had four babies in four years, three girls and a boy. They were transferred to Air Force bases in California and Texas, and Mitchell became as devout a soldier as he was a Pentecostal as a boy. He quickly rose through the ranks to become an instructor.

The military taught him to put his country before all else, including religion, family and self, but eventually he began to question this loyalty. Black soldiers had sacrificed their lives for their country throughout U.S. history and yet, across the country, black veterans were legally barred from sitting at a lunch counter to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He started to question everything, including his parents' passive acceptance of Jim Crow. He didn't want to wait until heaven to be compensated for his suffering in this life. In fact, he didn't see why he should suffer at all. It was the 1950s, and the Civil Rights movement was kicking into high gear. Blacks were demanding equal rights, and starting to get them. A young Baptist minister from Alabama named Martin Luther King Jr. started preaching that segregation was un-Christian, and should be fought through passive resistance.

Mitchell took up the call to arms and became a leader in Enid's civil rights movement, staging successful sit-ins at two downtown lunch counters and effectively dismantling the racist infrastructure of his hometown.

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