Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Andrew O. Mitchell ’65
I was a junior in high school in California. It was ’63 or ’64. Racism was a topic of the news at regular intervals. There were blacks that I knew that I considered to be my friends. I was the school’s yearbook photographer, a bit unusual for a junior, and my main duty was to be at all school functions.
The school had an enrollment of over three-thousand and the auditorium could only hold just under two-thousand. What that meant was that two assemblies were required, and I could get out of another class. The same principal who informed us of Kennedy’s death was trying to get some sense of order and wasn’t having a whole lot of luck. Blacks sat with blacks, and whites sat with whites. It was a tense time during that first assembly. It was a pressure cooker waiting to go off.
The school’s drama department would normally perform a skit or something at the start of an assembly. The curtain opened after it got about as quiet as it was going to get. Nothing was on the stage as two people approached each other from opposite sides of the stage. One was a black student named James Barber. He was short, and everybody nicknamed him “Tiny”. From the other side came a white girl, whose name I can’t remember. She was a couple of inches taller than Tiny and was incredibly good-looking (the kind of good-looking that young males found themselves with their mouths hanging open when she walked by).
As they walked toward each other, the audience became really quiet. They put out their arms like they were going to shake hands. As soon as their fingers met, the song “Do You Love Me ?” blared from the speakers. From past assemblies, I knew that Tiny was a very good dancer, and the girl could hold her own on the floor with anyone. This was the first time I had ever seen them dance together.
She had on a bright, blue dress that went down to just below her knees. He wore a dark suit with one of those real skinny ties. The two of them started in motion with the first note. One of his first moves was to jump in the air and land in a split. She reached down and patted him on the head, and then slowly raised her hand. He came up with it like her hand had stuck to his hair. The performance got better from there. He would stop and she would do something. They presented each other. It was really something to watch. Within thirty seconds, it was obvious that as good as they were by themselves, they were better together. Tiny had moves that would make Michael Jackson look clumsy. A minute into the song, the audience was clapping and singing along. Somewhere during that song, racism didn’t seem to have meaning.
I remember at the end of the assembly, when they came out to bow, the audience went wild and the principal nodded at someone behind him. The song came on again and we were treated to a performance that equaled the first. The second assembly started out almost the same way and ended up identically, including the encore dance.
Tiny died in an accident before he graduated from high school, and his senior picture in the yearbook is bordered in black. I remember Tiny, and I know what my all-time favorite song is now.
Submitted by Ellen Pond, Class of 1965 with this note:
Andy Mitchell (Andrew O. Mitchell, Class of 1965, 1947-2013) was the bravest man I ever met, almost losing his life in Viet Nam. His surgeon said his wounds were the worst he’d ever witnessed in Viet Nam, but the doctor saved him. His remains were interred in Arlington Cemetery.