Parren James Mitchell, U.S. Congressman   Leave a comment

Parren James Mitchell (April 29, 1922 – May 28, 2007), a Democrat, was a U.S. Congressman who represented the 7th congressional district of Maryland from January 3, 1971 to January 3, 1987. He was the first African-American elected to Congress from Maryland.

 Early life

Mitchell was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, Clarence M. Mitchell, Sr., was a waiter and his mother, Elsie Davis Mitchell was a homemaker. Mitchell graduated from Frederick Douglass Senior High School (Baltimore, Maryland) in 1940. Mitchell served as an officer in the 92nd Infantry Division during World War II, and was wounded in Italy; he received the Purple Heart. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University, and his master’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. Parren Mitchell was the brother of the late Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., who was head of the NAACP‘s Washington office and was one of Lyndon Johnson‘s chief advisors in the civil rights movement.[1] In 1950, Mitchell sued the then segregated University of Maryland for admission to the graduate school, and won admission. When he graduated he was the first African-American to do so from that school.

 Congressional career

Mitchell was also the first African American elected to the U.S. Congress from Maryland and one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Mitchell immediately became a vocal member of the caucus with one of his first actions with the caucus, numbering 12 at the time, was to boycott President Richard M. Nixon’s State of the Union address in 1971 after Nixon had refused to meet the group.[2] (Nixon did meet the caucus weeks later.)

During his 16 year career, he fought for affirmative action legislation. As Chairman of the Small Business Committee, Mitchell attached an amendment to a $4 billion public works bill that compelled state and local governments, seeking federal grants, to set aside 10% of the funds to retain minority firms as contractors and subcontractors.

Mitchell campaigning on the streets of Baltimore in August, 1982 with Georgia Gosslee and Curt Anderson

Mitchell also mentored several dozen young up and coming leaders, several of whom still hold public office. Maryland House of Delegates majority whip Talmadge Branch was an early aide, Delegate Nathaniel Oaks volunteered in Mitchell’s early campaigns, as did Delegates Sandy Rosenberg and Curt Anderson.

Mitchell initiated a congressional investigation into Wedtech where bribes were alleged to have been offered in return for no bid military contracts. His nephews State Senators Clarence Mitchell III and Michael Mitchell ended up serving time in Federal prison for their parts in the scandal.[1] In 1986 Mitchell retired from Congress but ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland as the running mate of Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs. In later years, after a series of strokes, he was placed in a nursing home but still made periodic appearances at community events.[3]

 Death and legacy

Mitchell died on 28 May 2007 of pneumonia at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, Maryland, after being hospitalized for a week. He was 85. On 5 June 2007 more than 1,000 people paid their last respects to the Congressman at the St. James’ Episcopal Church in west Baltimore. Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski paid tributes to Mitchell on behalf of the United States Senate; Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid tribute on behalf of the House of Representatives; Judiciary Chairman Representative John Conyers on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus; and Governor Martin O’Malley on behalf of the state of Maryland. Congressman Elijah Cummings delivered the eulogy saying: “He earned the trust of people throughout the country and the world because he was constantly building bridges for others to cross, while tearing down the walls that had excluded them.”[4]


Posted February 20, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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