Clarence Maurice Mitchell Jr. was a civil rights activist and was the chief lobbyist for the NAACP for nearly 30 years. He also served as a regional director for the organization.
Mitchell was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 8, 1911. He was the third of ten children of Clarence Maurice Mitchell and Elsie Davis Mitchell. Clarence’s brother Parren Mitchell, eleven years younger, would become the first African American from Maryland elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Mitchell grew up in a working-class neighborhood that was more ethnically diverse than most segregated Baltimore neighborhoods of the era. After graduating from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he went to work for a hometown newspaper, the Baltimore Afro-American. As a young journalist Mitchell reported on lynchings and he first testified in Congress in 1933 in support of an anti-lynching bill.
In 1950, Mitchell became director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and legislative chairman of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, a coalition of civil rights, religious, labor, and civic groups. That post made him a leader in the drive for federal civil rights legislation. The breakthrough came with enactment of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first civil rights measure passed since Reconstruction.
Mitchell came into the national limelight in 1956, when he was arrested for refusing to use a blacks-only doorway to the railroad station in the mill town of Florence, S.C. The case caused a furor.
Mitchell retired from the NAACP in 1978 but continued working. He wrote a weekly column for the Baltimore Sun, served on the University of Maryland’s Board of Regents.