Grover Washington, Jr. – The Millennium Collection
11 Apr 2000 | Soul Jazz

Black History

Parren James Mitchell ( first African American elected to Congress from Maryland) – Black History

Parren James Mitchell ( first African American elected to Congress from Maryland) – Black History



Parren James Mitchell (April 29, 1922 – May 28, 2007), was a U.S. Congressman affiliated with the Democratic Party 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.

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 Mitchell Jr., who was head of the NAACP‘s Washington office and was one of Lyndon Johnson‘s chief advisers during 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.

In 1968, Mitchell challenged nine-term Democratic incumbent Samuel Friedel in the Democratic primary and lost. He sought a rematch in 1970, and this time defeated Friedel by only 38 votes. He then breezed to election in November, becoming the first African-American elected to Congress from Maryland. After the 1970 census, the 7th was redrawn as a black-majority district—Maryland’s first. Mitchell was reelected seven more times from this district, never dropping below 75 percent of the vote. He even ran unopposed in 1974 and 1984, and only faced minor-party opposition in 1976 and 1978.

Mitchell was 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] Eventually, Nixon met 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 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]

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]

On December 3, 2015, the University of Maryland, College Park held a dedication ceremony renaming the Art/Sociology Building in his honor

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February 13th, 2018

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