Parren Mitchell
National Visionary

April 29, 1922 - May 28, 2007
Born in Baltimore, Maryland

First black Congressman from Maryland; champion for minority competition; founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus

Parren J. Mitchell was a pioneering activist for minorities and minority business causes since his youth. A Baltimore native, born April 29, 1922, Mitchell grew up as the son of a waiter at the Rennert Hotel. The family shared a small house off Pennsylvania Avenue. At age 12, Mitchell first entered the world of black activism,

picketing with his older brother Clarence against local merchants who would not hire African Americans. Mitchell attended Garnet Elementary School, Booker T. Washington Junior High School, and graduated in 1940 from Frederick Douglass High School.

Mitchell never shied away from a fight to improve minority conditions, and his family was involved in the Civil Rights struggle since the 1930s. His brother—Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr.—served as head of the Washington bureau of the NAACP. Sister-in-law Juanita Jackson-Mitchell, a civil rights lawyer, was also active in the NAACP. Parren’s nephew, Clarence Mitchell III, was a State Senator.

Parren Mitchell served in combat in World War II as a commissioned officer. He received a Purple Heart for his service. He graduated from Morgan State College in 1950, and went on to receive a Master’s in Sociology from the University of Maryland—after a successful lawsuit allowed him to become the school's first black graduate student. (Mitchell was later inducted into the University’s Hall of Fame.) After college, Mitchell worked as a probation officer and supervisor in Baltimore, while simultaneously teaching at Morgan State.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Mitchell gained his first public office in 1963, as Executive Secretary of the Maryland Commission on Interracial Problems and Relations. He worked tirelessly to promote the welfare of African Americans and improve relations between the races. In 1965, Mitchell was named Executive Director of the Community Action Agency, where he furthered the city’s anti-poverty agenda. His tenure lasted only three years; in 1968 he left, citing “bureaucratic obstacles to success.”

That departure led to Mitchell’s unsuccessful first bid for a congressional seat. After losing a close race, he returned to teaching at Morgan State and prepared for another run. In 1970, Mitchell ousted incumbent Sam Friedel, despite a vote count snafu in the primary, harassment and a firebombing incident at his campaign headquarters. Solid support in Baltimore’s black districts enabled his victory.

A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mitchell’s eight terms in Congress were hallmarked by tenacious effort and countless hours working to ensure fair procurement opportunities for minority and disadvantaged business. In 1976, Mitchell attached a 10% minority business set-aside to President Carter’s $4 billion Public Works bill. In 1982, he amended the $71 billion Surface Transportation Act to ensure that 10% of contracted work went to minority enterprises.

In 1984, while still in Congress, Mitchell established and became Chairman of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund (MBELDEF). This watchdog group’s mission was to: “defend, advocate, and promote domestic and international policies affecting equitable and full participation of minority enterprises in the local, regional, national, and global marketplace.”

In 1985, at age 63, Mitchell announced that he would not seek a ninth term in Congress.

During his retirement years, Mitchell continued his tireless activism. A scholarship for UMD students, sponsored by the Black Alumni Network, and several charitable trusts were enacted in Parren’s name. The Parren Mitchell Foundation gives awards to leaders in the African American community. In 2007, a post office in Baltimore was named in his honor.

Congressman Mitchell died on May 28, 2007 of complications from pneumonia at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 85 and had lived in a nursing home since a series of strokes several years ago.


Parren Mitchell's Wikipedia Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/mitchellparren