Clarence Mitchell, NAACP rights advocate in Washington: 1957
Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. the chief lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1950 to 1978 played a central role in winning passage of the landmark civil rights legislation that transformed the nation in the 1950s and 1960s.
Clarence Mitchell was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 8, 1911. He was the third of ten children of Clarence Maurice Mitchell and Elsie Davis Mitchell. Clarence’s brother Parren Mitchell, eleven years younger, would become the first African American from Maryland elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Mitchell grew up in a working-class neighborhood that was more ethnically diverse than most segregated Baltimore neighborhoods of the era. After graduating from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he went to work for a hometown newspaper, the Baltimore Afro-American.
As a young journalist Mitchell reported first-hand on a lynching in Cambridge, Md. and he first testified in Congress in 1933 in support of an anti-lynching bill.
In 1938, Mitchell married Juanita Jackson, a fellow Baltimorean who had founded a youth civil rights group and then headed the NAACP’s youth program. The Mitchells had four sons. After working for the Urban League and various federal agencies, Mitchell joined the NAACP in 1946 as labor secretary in its Washington Bureau.
While labor secretary of the NAACP, he attempted to testify before the House subcommittee investigating the 1948 United Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers union strike, but was cut off by chair Rep. Clare Hoffman (R-Mi.). The strikers, who had packed the hearing room, booed Hoffman and tried to follow him to his office, but were barred by Capitol police.
In 1950, Mitchell became director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and legislative chairman of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, a coalition of civil rights, religious, labor, and civic groups. That post made him a leader in the drive for federal civil rights legislation. The breakthrough came with enactment of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first civil rights measure passed since Reconstruction. Although the bill was seen as a disappointment at the time because southern opponents succeeded in watering it down, Mitchell said “The importance of getting that bill through was that we could break the spirit of defeat around here on civil rights legislation.”
That first success was followed by a series of stronger bills that transformed American society: the 1960 Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. As his influence grew, Mitchell became known as the “101st Senator,” a reflection of both his success and his constant presence in the Senate.
--partially excerpted from “The Black Past Remembered.”
For more information and related images on the 1948 cafeteria strike, see
For a deep dive into the 1948 cafeteria workers strike, see washingtonspark.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/against-the-cold...
The photographer is unknown. The image is courtesy of the Library of Congress, NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.