February 9, 2007
Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., was born in Baltimore on March 8, 1911. The oldest of six children, Mitchell graduated from Douglass High School in 1928 and attended Lincoln Universtity in Oxford, Pa. In college, he joined the debate team, eventually becoming its captain. Mitchell graduated from Lincoln in 1931 and was contemplating becoming a physician.
Mitchell returned to Baltimore and became a reporter at the Baltimore Afro-American, where he covered and witnessed the lynching of a black man on the Eastern Shore in 1933. He testified before Congress about the lynching. This and other events lead him to change his plans of becoming a physician and choose, instead, a life of public service and political activism.
In 1937, Mitchell became executive secretary of the Urban League in St. Paul, Minn. In 1938, he married Juanita Jackson, the daughter of Lillie May Carroll Jackson, both of whom were well-known civil rights activists. In 1941, he took a position with the National Full Employment and Practices Commission. In 1945, he became first labor secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Mitchell became head of the Washington office of NAACP in 1950, but continued to live in Baltimore, where he earned his law degree at the University of Maryland.
The civil rights leader became a fixture in the halls of Congress as he battled for an end to segregation. Mitchell had a good working relationship with both the Republican and Democratic leadership. He was consulted by presidents from Truman to Carter. During his years with the NAACP, the Federal government took action to prohibit discrimination in education, housing, employment and voting rights. Mitchell witnessed many milestones along the road to civil rights and helped push them through. The Congressional Quarterly reported that Mitchell "was the catalyst who organized and kept together the forces that passed the bill." For this, Mitchell became known as the 101st Senator due to his influence in the Senate.
Mitchell personally battled segregation in the Jim Crow south. In 1956, he was arrested in Florence, S.C., for refusing to use the blacks-only entrance at the town's railroad station. His arrest stirred oppostion that resulted in an end to segregated entrances.
Mitchell retired in 1978 from the NAACP, but continued to work tirelessly for equal rights. He became chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and received the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Although Mitchell died on March 18, 1984, the legislation he helped pass still stands as his undying legacy.
The Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore was named in his honor in 1985.
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