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Mitchell, Parren J. 1922–2007

Parren J. Mitchell 1922–2007

Congressional representative

In 1970 Parren J. Mitchell became Maryland's first African-American congressman, and the first African-American congressman elected below the Mason-Dixon Line since 1898. During his sixteen years in Congress, he served as chair to the Congressional Black Caucus and won a reputation as a staunch supporter of minority-owned businesses. He has been called the father of the federal set-aside program, allowing ten percent of federal business contracts to be awarded to minorities. “I worked very hard in Congress to get laws on the books to benefit minority business,” Mitchell told Sonny Goldreich in the Baltimore Business Journal. “Everywhere I speak, I say, ‘This is the second phase of the civil rights movement. We cannot expect to be full-fledged citizens until we fully participate in the economy.’”

Raised in a Politically Active Household

Mitchell was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 29, 1922, to Clarence Sr. and Elsie Mitchell. The ten Mitchell children were raised within the church and taught to respect education, while their father worked as a hotel waiter to support the family. The Mitchell family had been involved in politics since the 1930s, and Parren Mitchell's older brother, Clarence M. Mitchell, served as a lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Washington, D.C., for twenty years, helping to shape civil rights legislation during the 1960s.

Mitchell attended Baltimore public schools and enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. He served in the Ninety-second Infantry Division and received a Purple Heart before his discharge in 1946. He enrolled in Morgan State College in Baltimore and received a bachelor's degree in 1950. When the University of Maryland refused to admit him to their graduate program, he successfully sued the college and became the first African American to complete the program.

After completing a masters degree in sociology in 1952, Mitchell returned to Morgan State College, where he taught for two years. Between 1954 and 1957 he supervised probation for the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, and between 1961 and 1965 he directed the Maryland Commission of Human Relations. In 1963 Mitchell also began serving as the executive secretary for the Maryland Commission on Interracial Problems and Relations, an organization appointed to implement the state's public accommodation law. In 1965 he became executive director for the antipoverty organization Baltimore Community Action Agency, and in 1968 he returned to Morgan State College, working in dual roles as an assistant director of the Urban Affairs Institute and a professor of sociology.

Became a Congressman

In 1968 Mitchell entered the Democratic primary in Maryland's Seventh Congressional District. Even though he lost, he remained undiscouraged and entered the contest again in 1970, winning the general election to become Maryland's first African-American congressman.

Over the next sixteen years he served in various capacities in the U.S. Congress. He became chairman of the House Small Business Committee, the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy, the Task Force on Minority Enterprise, and the Subcommittee on Housing, Minority Enterprise, and Economic Development of the Congressional Black Caucus; served as a senior member on the House Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee; and was a member of the Joint Economic Committee.

Mitchell quickly gained a reputation as a champion for minorities as he worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to empower minorities by leveling the economic playing field. “It was Mitchell who led the successful fight for legislation requiring government set-asides for minority-owned businesses,” wrote Business Wire, “and for legislation requiring government contractors to spell out their goals for awarding contracts to minority contractors.” He encouraged minorities to recognize the connection between economic opportunity and political equality. In 1976 Mitchell's efforts came to fruition when he attached an amendment to the Public Works Bill stipulating that cities and states which received federal grants be required to award ten percent of these funds to minority-owned businesses. Another bill in 1976 required contractors to document their goals in relation to awarding funds to minority firms. His amendment to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1980 likewise required ten percent of funds to be set aside for minority businesses.

Retired from Congress

Mitchell retired from Congress in 1987, after sixteen years of service, but he continued to work three days a week without pay out of a low-key office in Washington, D.C. “Unlike many advocates of liberal social policies,” noted the Baltimore Business Journal, “Mitchell has not grown defensive or apologetic while the nation embraced a conservative agenda during the past 12 years.” When critics complained that set-aside programs for minorities are unfair, Mitchell simply turned the tables on his opponents. “I agree that it is most unfair that you should have 90 percent,” he told the Baltimore Business Journal. “But we are willing to accept our 10 percent.” He continued to serve as chairman for the nonprofit group Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization he had helped found in 1980.

In December of 1998 Theodore A. Adams Jr. and Walter Fauntroy created the Parren J. Mitchell Foundation for Education and Talent Development as a legacy to the congressman. The foundation initiated a campaign to raise $3.3 million to help endow chairs at historically black colleges. The foundation's first target was Mitchell's alma mater, Morgan State University in 2000, to be followed by an endowment at North Carolina A&T University in North Carolina. “This couldn't be a more fitting legacy,” said executive director Renard H. Marable, “because Congressman Mitchell devoted his life to using public policy to open opportunities for minority business people.”

At a Glance …

Born on April 29, 1922, in Baltimore, MD; died from complications of pneumonia on May 28, 2007; son of Clarence Sr. and Elsie J. Mitchell. Education: Morgan State University, BA, 1950; University of Maryland, MA in sociology, 1952.

Career: US Army, 1942-46; Morgan State College, professor, 1952-54, 1968-70; Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, supervisor of probation, 1954-57; Maryland Commission of Human Relations, director, 1961-65; Baltimore Community Action Agency, executive director, 1965-68; U.S. House of Representatives, representative from Maryland's seventh district, 1971-87; Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund, chairman of board, 1980-late 1990s.

Awards: Received fourteen honorary degrees; various awards from over three thousand national and local consumer, civil rights, business, economic, and religious groups; Purple Heart Award, 1940s; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2000.

In 1999 Mitchell suffered a series of strokes, so his family decided to move him to the Keswick Multi-care Center in Baltimore, Maryland, where he could receive continuous medical care. In 2002 controversy arose when two reporters from the Baltimore Sun, Ivan Penn and Walter F. Roche Jr., entered Mitchell's room for an interview, which Mitchell later said was conducted without his consent. The reporters published a story alleging that Mitchell's nephew, Michael B. Mitchell Sr., used Mitchell's assets to pay off personal debt while his uncle's bills went unpaid, including more than $100,000 owed to the Keswick facility. In a later interview with Wiley Hall III of the Baltimore City Paper, Mitchell claimed that his outstanding debts would be paid in full and that his nephew had not utilized his assets without permission. The Mitchell family later announced their intention to sue the Baltimore Sun reporters for more than $200 million in damages for trespassing and invasion of privacy. In 2004 a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge denied the family's claim on the basis that the reporters visited Mitchell in a public place and had not, therefore, violated his privacy.

Mitchell died on May 28, 2007, of complications from pneumonia after being hospitalized for over a week in the intensive care department of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Mitchell's funeral was held at St. James Episcopal Church in Baltimore and was attended by mourners including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Maryland senator Barbara Mikulski, Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, and Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. Representative Elijah Cummings, who served in Mitchell's former district, presented one of the eulogies, saying of Mitchell, “He was a true servant leader, never concerning himself about fame or fortune but, rather, devoting himself entirely to uplifting the people he represented.” Cummings also offered a quote, attributed to African-American scholar and activist Benjamin Mays, which Mitchell himself frequently used to express his thoughts on his role as a leader and politician: “I only have a minute—60 seconds in it. Forced upon me I did not choose it, but I know that I must use it. Suffer if I lose it, give account if I abuse it. Only a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.”

Sources

Periodicals

Baltimore Business Journal, November 27, 1992.

Baltimore City Paper, June 12, 2002.

Baltimore Sun, May 31, 2002.

Business Wire, June 26, 2002.

Daily Record (Baltimore, MD), March 25, 2004.

New York Times, May 30, 2007.

Washington Post, June 5, 2007.

Online

“Parren J. Mitchell,” Biography Resource Center,www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (accessed January 30, 2008).

—Ronnie D. Lankford and Micah L. Issitt

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"Mitchell, Parren J. 1922–2007." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Mitchell, Parren J. 1922–2007." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mitchell-parren-j-1922-2007

Mitchell, Parren J. 1922–

Parren J. Mitchell 1922

Congressman,

At a Glance

Sources

In 1970 Parren J. Mitchell became Marylands first African-American congressman, and the first African-American congressman elected below the Mason Dixon line since 1898. During his sixteen years in Congress, he served as chair to the Congressional Black Caucus, and won a reputation as a staunch supporter of minority-owned businesses. He has been called the father of the federal set-aside program, allowing ten percent of federal business contracts to be awarded to minorities. I worked very hard in Congress to get laws on the books to benefit minority business, Mitchell told Sonny Goldreich in the Baltimore Business Journal. Everywhere I speak, I say, This is the second phase of the civil rights movement. We cannot expect to be full-fledged citizens until we fully participate in the economy.

Mitchell was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 29, 1922, to Clarence and Elsie Mitchell. The ten Mitchell children were raised within the church and taught to respect education, while their father worked as a hotel waiter to support the family. The Mitchell family had gained a reputation for its political involvement since the 1930s, and Parren Mitchells older brother, Clarence M. Mitchell, served as a lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Washington, D.C., for twenty years, helping to shape civil rights legislation during the 1960s.

Mitchell attended Baltimore public schools and in 1942 during World War II, he enlisted in the Army. He served in the 92nd Infantry Division, and received a Purple Heart before his discharge in 1946. He enrolled in Morgan State College in Baltimore and received his bachelors degree in 1950. When the University of Maryland refused to allow him to sign up for their graduate program, he successfully sued the college and became the first African American to complete the program.

After finishing his masters in sociology in 1952, Mitchell returned to Morgan State College where he taught for two years. Between 1953 and 1957 he supervised probation for the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, and directed the Maryland Commission of Human Relations between 1961 and 1965. In 1963 Mitchell also began serving as the executive secretary for the Maryland Commission on Interracial Problems and Relations, an organization appointed to implement the states public accommodation law. In 1965 he became

At a Glance

Born Parren James Mitchell on April 29, 1922, in Baltimore, MD; son of Elsie J. Mitchell and Clarence Mitchell, Sr. Education: Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD. BA, 1950; University of MD, College Park, MA, 1952; studied at the University of Connecticut, 1950s. Military Service: US Army, infantry and lieutenant, 1942-45.

Career: Maryland Commission of Human Relations, director, 1961-65; Baltimore Anti Poverty Agency, director, 1965-68; U.S. House of Representatives, representative from Marylands seventh district, 1971-87; Minority Business Enterprise, chairman of board, 1980-late 1990s.

Selected awards: Honorary degrees: Lincoln University, Bowie State College, University of MD, Morgan State University, Howard University, VA Union Seminary, Coppin State, Morehouse University, St. Marys College; Purple Heart award, 1940s; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2000.

Addresses: Office Chairman, Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fun, 220 I St NE Ste. 280, Washington, DC 20001.

executive director for the anti-poverty organization, Baltimore Community Action Agency, and in 1968 he returned to Morgan State College, working in dual roles as an assistant director of the Urban Affairs Institute and professor of sociology.

In 1968 Mitchell decided to enter the Democratic primary in Marylands Seventh Congressional District. Although he lost, he remained undiscouraged and entered the contest again in 1970, winning the general election to become Marylands first African-American congressman. Over the next 16 years Mitchell would serve in various capacities in the United States Congress. He became the chairman of the House Small Business Committee and the Task Force on Minority Enterprise, and served as a senior member on the House, Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.

Mitchell quickly carved out a reputation as a champion for minorities, working with the Congressional Black Caucus to empower minorities by leveling the economic playing field. It was Mitchell who led the successful fight for legislation requiring government set-asides for minority-owned businesses, wrote Busi-ness Wire, and for legislation requiring government contractors to spell out their goals for awarding contracts to minority contractors. He encouraged minorities to recognize the connection between economic opportunity and political equality. In 1976 Mitchells efforts came to fruition when he attached an amendment to the Public Works Bill stipulating that cities and states who received federal grants be required to award ten percent of these funds to minority-owned businesses. Another bill in 1976 required contractors to document their goals in relation to awarding funds to minority firms. His amendment to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1980 likewise required ten percent of funds to be set aside for minority businesses.

Mitchell retired from Congress in 1987, after sixteen years of service, but he continued to work three days a week without pay out of a low-key office in Washington, D.C. Unlike many advocates of liberal social policies, noted the Baltimore Business Journal, Mitchell has not grown defensive or apologetic while the nation embraced a conservative agenda during the past 12 years. When critics complained that set aside programs for minorities are unfair, Mitchell simply turned the tables on his opponents. I agree that it is most unfair that you should have 90 percent, he told the Baltimore Business Journal. But we are willing to accept our 10 percent. He continued to serve as chairman for the non-profit group, Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund (MBELDEF), an organization he had helped found in 1980.

In the late 1990s following a number of strokes, Mitchell moved into the Keswick Multi-Care Center in Roland Park. The retired congressman turned over his financial affairs to his nephew, Michael B. Mitchell, Sr., but by 2002, it became apparent that a number of billsincluding over $100,000 owed to the Keswick Centerremained unpaid. Mitchell also owed $25,532 in state and federal taxes, and was being sued by General Motors for a $16,000 car bought by his nephew. Despite these difficulties, the Keswick facility remained supportive of the congressman. Hes very sick, Lionel Fulz told Walter Roche and Ivan Penn in the Baltimore Sun. Were doing everything we can to keep him comfortable. Theres no way we would put him out.

In December of 1998 Dr. Theodore A. Adams, Jr. and Walter Fauntroy created the Parren J. Mitchell Foundation for Education and Talent Development as a legacy to the congressman. The foundation initiated a campaign to raise $3.3 million dollars to help endow chairs at a number of historically black colleges. The foundations first target was Mitchells alma mater, Morgan State University in 2000, to be followed by an endowment at North Carolina A&amp;T University in North Carolina. This couldnt be a more fitting legacy, said executive director Renard H. Marable, because Congressman Mitchell devoted his life to using public policy to open opportunities for minority business people.

Sources

Periodicals

Baltimore Business Journal, November 27, 1992, p. 19.

Baltimore Sun, May 31, 2002, p. 1A.

Business Wire, June 26, 2002.

On-line

Chairs for a Champion, Afro, www.afro.com (October 1, 2003).

Parren J. Mitchell, Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (November 3, 2003).

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mitchell, Parren J. 1922–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mitchell, Parren J. 1922–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mitchell-parren-j-1922

"Mitchell, Parren J. 1922–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mitchell-parren-j-1922