A COUPLE of months ago, my mother asked me if I remembered Juanita Jackson Mitchell. Silly question. Me forget Juanita Jackson Mitchell? Not bloody likely.
In late June 1969, a black woman was viciously attacked by a police dog in the 2000 block of Edmondson Avenue. With memories of police dogs attacking civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham in 1963 still fresh in mind, a group of black nationalists based in West Baltimore decided to protest the incident.
Our demonstration didn't sit well with Donald Pomerleau, the police commissioner at the time. In fact, Commissioner Pomerleau had about a dozen of us slapped behind bars July 3, 1969.
My mother, never a calm person, went ballistic -- especially after the court commissioner set bail. I don't remember the exact amount, but I do recall that to pay even the required 10 percent would have been several light years out of my mother's salary range.
I gather from what she told me later that she was so distraught she was actually at a loss as to what corporal punishment I deserved for my transgression. Apparently there was none severe enough.
But during the excitement someone had the good sense and clarity of mind to get Juanita Jackson Mitchell involved. A committee was organized to raise bail for those arrested. We were out of jail within five days. A meeting was set up with Gov. Marvin Mandel, who immediately made two mistakes: He characterized the 12 arrested as "hoodlums." And he aroused the ire of Mrs. Mitchell.
"Hoodlums?" Mrs. Mitchell protested indignantly. "Let me set you straight on that, governor. These boys are not hoodlums. Most of these young men have graduated high school. Some are on their way to college. They are not hoodlums!"
Mrs. Mitchell got so riled that she knocked one of her famous elegant, wide-brimmed hats clean off her head.
At this point the governor decided it was best to be conciliatory. "Take it easy now, Juanita," he said as he tried to explain away the remark.
Years later, someone told me that the actions of the 12 of us who were arrested led to the integration of Baltimore's K-9 corps. But the people who believe that are kidding themselves. If anyone integrated the Baltimore City Police Department's K-9 corps, it was Juanita Jackson Mitchell. Although I can't prove it, I suspect Mrs. Mitchell and Governor Mandel (the city police commissioner was appointed by the governor back then) had a private conversation afterward that went something like this:
JJM: You know, governor, there should really be some black officers in the K-9 corps.
MM: I'll get right on it, Juanita.
MM (early the next morning, talking to Commissioner Pomerleau): "Don, you idiot! Get some black officers in the K-9 corps so Juanita'll get off my case."
Forget Juanita Jackson Mitchell? I don't think so. The people who put up money to save her home from being sold a few years back didn't forget. I remember going down to the bank to contribute to that fund against the advice of some who suggested that to give money would indirectly support her sons Michael and Clarence, who had been convicted in the Wedtech scandal.
I explained that the issues were totally unrelated. Assuming Michael and Clarence were guilty (and given what I now know about the Justice Department's harassment of black elected officials, I'm not so sure they were), their conviction had nothing to do with Juanita Jackson Mitchell. Thank God hundreds of other Baltimoreans felt the same. Thank God there are still people in this city who know how to repay a debt.
The hundreds of people who filled Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church Saturday didn't forget, either. They didn't forget because, as Sen. Barbara Mikulski pointed out, "Her office was always filled because she never turned away those who needed help."
Dr. Keiffer Mitchell, one of Mrs. Mitchell's four sons and my
mother's physician, confided that his mother was feeling depressed and forgotten in her final months.
She should now be happy to know how wrong she was.
Gregory P. Kane writes from Baltimore.