Rufus E. Mitchell, 93, owned tuxedo shop, ran resort for blacks

February 21, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Rufus E. Mitchell, who owned a tuxedo rental shop and managed an Anne Arundel County beach for African-Americans in the era of racial segregation, died Tuesday at his Ashburton home of heart failure. He was 93.

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Mitchell moved to Baltimore more than 65 years ago and lived on Druid Hill Avenue. He was briefly a chef at area restaurants, and from 1944 to 1946 served in the Army at Fort Meade.

In 1956, he opened his first business, a dry-cleaning shop at McCulloh and Laurens streets that he later named Valet Formal Rental. Family members said he had contracts with city high schools, including Douglass and Dunbar, to outfit students for proms and graduations. He later opened a branch in Mondawmin Mall. He retired in 2000.

In the 1950s, he was general manager of Carr's Beach, a summer resort near Annapolis owned by African-American business interests in Baltimore.

Situated next to Sparrow's Beach, another segregated summer place, Carr's featured a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round and an open-air dance pavilion for the musical acts that Mr. Mitchell booked. On a busy Sunday, about 2,000 people would pay to hear the artists he signed.

"He'd bring in James Brown, Otis Redding or Sam Cooke," said his stepson, Nathaniel Alston of Baltimore. "He was a warmhearted person who took care of his artists. His musicians really respected him. Otis always used to call him `Old Soul' or `Old Dude.' The performers knew when he booked them, they didn't have anything to worry about."

Mr. Mitchell also managed the 20-acre property. He oversaw a small amusement park and ran the concessions. His musical events were regularly broadcast live by a close friend, Charles W. "Hoppy" Adams Jr., on radio station WANN-AM.

"Rufus booked any artist that hit the Top 10," said Mr. Adams, of Annapolis. "He had all the stars - the Temptations, Four Tops, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Ruth Brown. I've seen buses come up from North Carolina, the Delmarva Peninsula and of course Baltimore and Washington. The traffic would be backed up along the roads into Carr's."

In September 1956, Mr. Mitchell attracted attention by bringing former world heavyweight champ Joe Louis to train and do exhibition rounds at the beach.

Family members said that after desegregation, the popularity of Carr's Beach declined, and it closed in the 1970s.

He was a member of the Prince Hall Masons.

A memorial service will be held at noon tomorrow at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Ave.

Survivors also include his wife of 30 years, the former Lorraine Turner; a daughter, Janet Hall of Baltimore; and three grandchildren. Another daughter, Frances Mitchell, died in 1981.

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