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Rep. Mitchell drops Jim Crow fight at U.S. Capitol: 1935 | by Washington Area Spark
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Rep. Mitchell drops Jim Crow fight at U.S. Capitol: 1935

Arthur W. Mitchell was a U.S. Representative from Illinois. For his entire congressional career from 1935 to 1943, he was the only African American in Congress. He is shown in a photograph circa 1940.


Mitchell was the first African American to be elected to the United States Congress as a Democrat -- he defeated Oscar De Priest, an African American Republican.


Mitchell switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in 1932 after finding that his views on issues aligned himself closer to the Democrats.


Upon his election to Congress, he abandoned the fight that DePriest had begun against the Jim Crow House of Representatives public restaurant.


He told the Afro his predecessor tried to make an issue out of it,


“…and when the smoke had cleared away, conditions were worse. Several colored persons lost their jobs as a result of the fight, and the colored public is still barred.”


In 1942, Mitchell’s own secretary Christine Ray Hughes took a seat in a new House restaurant open to the public and was served without incident.


However, Rep. John Rankin (D-Miss.) led a delegation to the office of Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Tex.) to protest an African American’s presence in the restaurant.


Thereafter Hughes did not return to the restaurant.


Mitchell was criticized in the Afro American for not speaking out, but their words made no difference.


While in Congress, Mitchell introduced bills banning lynching and against discrimination, but was not able to achieve much legislative success.


He filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Central and Rock Island Railroads after he was forced into a segregated train car just before it passed into Arkansas. Mitchell's suit was advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court as case Mitchell v. United States, which ruled that the railroad violated the Interstate Commerce Act.


He voluntarily chose not to seek re-election in 1942.


For a detailed blog post on the effort to end Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol public restaurants, see


For related images, see


Photograph by Addison N. Scurlock. The image is courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

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Taken circa 1940