City politicians, black leaders mark 100th anniversary of Mitchell's birth

Known as '101st senator,' longtime NAACP lobbyist 'said something and people listened'

March 08, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore politicians and black leaders gathered Tuesday to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., the longtime NAACP lobbyist credited as integral to the passage of a slew of rights laws.

The breakfast came near the end of five days of events honoring Mitchell, a civil rights lawyer and, for three decades, the chief lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was nicknamed the "101st senator" for his role in arguing for civil rights, voting and fair housing legislation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared March 8, 2011, "Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Day," and representatives from her office and the office of Bernard C. "Jack" Young, the City Council president, presented the Mitchell family with proclamations honoring him. Mitchell died in 1984.

"He stood and spoke as a statesman," said the Rev. Jerome Stephens, representing Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who in February submitted a statement into the Congressional Record noting Mitchell's achievements. "He said something and people listened."

Hilary O. Shelton, a lobbyist for the NAACP, said Mitchell — the namesake of one of Baltimore's downtown courthouses — recognized that the Constitution alone would not protect blacks' rights without a fundamental change in the country's laws.

In his first years as the NAACP lobbyist, Shelton said, he knew he had done a good job when Ted Kennedy, the longtime Massachusetts senator, would tell him, "You know, that's the way Clarence would have done it."

Author Denton L. Watson, who wrote a biography of Mitchell, "Lion in the Lobby," noted Mitchell's gentlemanly manners while working with him at the NAACP in the 1970s. Once, when Watson visited Mitchell at his NAACP office, Mitchell offered him a ride to the airport and wouldn't take no for an answer, Watson recalled.

Watson was an editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun between 1979 and 1981.

The week of events was organized principally by Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, a former president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, and Michael E. Johnson, director of the Paul Robeson Institute and a City Council candidate. The Mitchell celebrations cost about $20,000, Johnson said, provided primarily by black-owned businesses and local churches.

Johnson said he and Cheatham plan to establish an organization to mark the centennials of births of famous black leaders from Baltimore and Maryland. The organization is also working to get busts of local black leaders in the halls of Congress and is petitioning the U.S. Postal Service for a commemorative stamp, he said.

He said they will also be lobbying Andrés A. Alonso, the city schools executive, to name future schools after Clarence M. Mitchell and his brother, Parren J. Mitchell, Maryland's first black congressman.

"The first black congressman, and there's nothing named after him," Johnson said. "People should be ashamed."

Next year, he said, they will mark the 100th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall's birth with similar events.

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