Trailblazers: Congressman Parren J. Mitchell (part 2)

Parren Mitchell is sworn in by Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin as Executive Director of the city's Community Action Agency, October 1965. (photograph from the Baltimore News American collection)
Parren Mitchell is sworn in by Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin as Executive Director of the city’s Community Action Agency, October 1965. (photograph from the Baltimore News American Collection)

In part one, we looked at Parren Mitchell’s road to becoming the first African-American graduate student to take all of his classes on campus and receive a degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.  Mitchell’s graduation in 1952 was only the beginning for this legendary Marylander.

After graduation, Mitchell returned to Morgan State College as a sociology professor and assistant head of their Urban Studies Institute.  Mitchell also spent time teaching at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) and the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore, according to a 1971 interview with The Black Explosion, a newspaper published by the Black Student Union at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In the early 1960s, Mitchell began to move into public service.  He was named Executive Director of Maryland’s Human Relations Commission in 1963 and was selected by Mayor Theodore McKeldin to serve as Executive Director of the Baltimore Community Action Agency in 1965.

Parren Mitchell being interviewed by the editorial board of the Baltimore News American during his 1970 campaign. (photograph from the Baltimore News American Collection)
Parren Mitchell being interviewed by the editorial board of the Baltimore News American during his 1970 campaign. (photograph from the Baltimore News American Collection)

Mitchell made his first run for elected office in 1968 as a candidate for Maryland’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He lost that election by approximately 5,000 votes, but his heightened profile in the community following that race helped him win the seat two years later.  In January 1971, Parren Mitchell was sworn in and became Maryland’s first African-American member of Congress.

Congressman Mitchell served the 7th District for 15 years and rose to the leadership position of House-at-Large Whip.  A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mitchell focused much of his time in office on ensuring that minority business owners had equal access to economic opportunity.  He was known for his strong stance against the war in Vietnam and was one of the first to call for President Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate scandal.  As awareness of the South African government’s apartheid policies grew, Congressman Mitchell also pressed for economic sanctions against that country.

In 1986, Mitchell decided not to seek re-election and instead chose to run for Lieutenant Governor back home in Maryland.  He lost that race but remained in public service, founding the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund to continue his work on behalf of minority business owners.  Congressman Mitchell passed away on May 28, 2007.

Parren Mitchell and others protesting South Africa's apartheid policies outside of the country's embassy in Washington, D.C.
Parren Mitchell and others protesting South Africa’s apartheid policies outside of the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C., February 1985. (Photograph from the Baltimore News American Collection)

More than a half-century after his graduation, Congressman Mitchell’s name lives on here at College Park.  He was elected into the Alumni Hall of Fame in 1995.  In 1996, The Black Alumni Network established the Parren Mitchell Baltimore Incentive Awards Endowment, which provides scholarships to students from nine of Baltimore City’s high schools to attend the University of Maryland.  In 2008, Governor O’Malley signed a law establishing the Parren J Mitchell Scholarships, which are awarded yearly to ten students who agree to go into public service after they graduate from a Maryland college or university.

Congressman Parren J. Mitchell left an indelible mark on the University of Maryland, the state and the country.  We are proud to call this trailblazing Terp one of our own.

On April 29, 2014, the Critical Race Initiative of the Department of Sociology will be hosting “A Critical Race Symposium on the Legacy of Congressman Parren Mitchell.” Find out more and RSVP for the event

Sources:

http://history.house.gov/People/Detail?id=18367

http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/002000/002099/html/2099bio.html

http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/hon-parren-j-mitchell-38

Photographs from the Baltimore News American Collection: http://www.lib.umd.edu/special/collections/maryland/newsphoto

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