"Lion in the Lobby, Clarence Mitchell's, Jr.'s Struggle for the Passage of Civil Rights Laws"
Transcripts of the Clarence Mitchell, Jr., Symposium on His Struggle for Racial Equality
Click here for a printable copy (in pdf format)
Born in Baltimore, Maryland on March 8, 1911, Clarence Mitchell, Jr., led the struggle for passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the 1960 Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and all of their strengthening provisions. He also sought constructive national policies, such as presidential executive orders barring discrimination in employment, and directives ending segregation on military bases. His greatest contribution to strengthening our democracy was getting the Congress to join the courts and the Executive Branch in upholding the Constitution for protection of the rights of African Americans. He was popularly called the "101st senator." In 1980, President Carter presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Richard Cummings, Esq., Professor (retired), John Marshall Law School
Dr. David Chesnutt, Ph.D., Editor, Henry Laurens Papers
Dr. Robert A. Hill, Ph.D., Editor, The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers, UCLA
Dr. John Kaminiski, Ph.D., Professor of History, University of Wisconsin
Dr. Samuel L. Myers, Jr., Ph.D., Roy Wilkins Professor, University of Minnesota
Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, Ph.D., State Archivist, Maryland State Archives
Dr. Robert Rosenberg, Ph.D., Editor, Thomas A. Edison Papers
Prof. Denton L. Watson, Project Director / Editor
Dr. Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, Associate Editor
Clarence Mitchell, Jr., Papers Project
SUNY College at Old Westbury, Campus Center, Suite E-215, Old Westbury, NY 11568-0210
Phone: 516-876-2885 Fax: 516-876-2887 or 516-546-3754
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com
Funded by: National Historical Publications and Records Commission
Publishers: Ohio University Press
See related civil rights projects:
The Clarence Mitchell, Jr., Papers begin with the lobbyist’s service as executive director of the St. Paul Urban League from 1937 to 1941. Subsequently, he was a field assistant in the Negro Employment and Training Branch of the Office of Production Management, director of field operations at the Fair Employment Practice Committee, and, next, labor secretary for the NAACP in the organization’s Washington Bureau. From 1950 to 1978 he was director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and legislative chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Notable among the project’ collection is the most complete set available of his monthly and annual reports as NAACP labor secretary and director of the Bureau. They and his other papers – letters and memorandums, speeches, congressional statements and testimonies, as well as related documents from the project's collection – indisputably reaffirm June 25, 1941, as the date on which the modern civil rights movement began. On that date, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 barring discrimination in the defense industry and creating the Fair Employment Practice Committee to administer the order. African Americans then made obtaining presidential leadership central to the struggle for racial equality.
The project is editing and publishing the reports in 3 volumes. They are Mitchell’s detailed, running record of his work. They document a key phase of the development of the NAACP’s political strategy and evolution of its legislative program and all of the issues the organization addressed in Washington during his tenure there. Gaining presidential leadership was Mitchell’s driving concern and the key to the NAACP’s success in implementing its egalitarian philosophy. Once you had the President with you, he would say, you had his party with you, and the country. Click here for the reports of Clarence Mitchell, Jr., Synopsis of Volumes and Phases.
Programs of the Clarence Mitchell, Jr., Papers Project include:
-------, "The Warren Court and Congress: A Civil Rights Partnership."
Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 48, No. 1 (1968), pp. 91-128.
Denton L. Watson, Lion in the Lobby, Clarence Mitchell, Jr.’s Struggle for the Passage of Civil Rights Laws (Morrow, 1990).
------, "The Papers of Clarence Mitchell, Jr., Confirm the 101st Senator's Unique Role In Seeking Passage of Civil Rights Laws" (The Historian, May/June, 2002).
Clarence Mitchell, Jr., was among those The Baltimore Sun celebrated in its book published the end of 1999 entitled, Marylanders of the Century. Joseph R. L. Sterne, retired editor of The Sun’s editorial pages who covered the civil rights struggle in Washington during the 1960s, wrote in his piece on Mitchell that: "There were many fathers to the civil rights victories; even orphans in defeat found themselves liberated. But a goodly share of the paternity belongs to Clarence Mitchell. His city honored him posthumously by naming its courthouse after him. He was, indeed, one of the leading Marylanders of the 20th century."
Mitchell’s contributions to the strengthening of American democracy nevertheless extended beyond his hometown Baltimore and state to the entire nation. Note the broader assessments of his place in history:
"He didn’t have the highest title in the room,
but all in all he had forced down my door more than any other persons."
President Lyndon Johnson, farewell address to black federal appointees, 12/17/68.
"[I]f we think of ‘civil rights issues’ in a very
narrow sense, we will never appreciate fully the breadth of Clarence Mitchell’s
responsibilities and expertise. In his myriad appearances before Congress
[in more than 30 years], he has addressed legislation affecting virtually
every aspect of American life – voting rights; judicial and executive branch
nominations; health; social security; foreign affairs; minimum wage; revenue
sharing; education; housing; full employment; youth employment; labor;
federal court jurisdiction; judicial selection and confirmation procedures;
and urban decay."
Charles McG. Mathias, host of a Senate breakfast in honor of Mitchell, 1979.
"[In the struggle for civil rights laws] the formulation
of strategy was often the critical factor. For, while the combat may be
compared to a chess game, it is one in which the chessmen constantly change
value. And there are many steps from the conception of a strategy to its
successful conclusion. These are skirmishes and battles, victories and
defeats, all manner of crises. Each of these engagements is integral to
the process of passing the bill."
Congressman Richard Bolling, oral history interview, 7/12/82.
"Clarence was also a good teacher. . . . Clarence
taught me how to be a good lobbyist."
David Brody, Washington representative, Anti-Defamation League, oral history interview, 10/21/83.
"Mr. Mitchell did not simply contribute to the great moral passion for equal rights that built up in this country in the 1950s. His special contribution was to find effective ways to bring that force to bear in the political arena. He made it his business to know and to earn the confidence of a wide range of Washington figures, not least the politicians whose resistance to his cause had to be overcome. . . .
"While he was not as well known outside Washington
as other civil rights leaders, Clarence Mitchell was the movement’s skilled
negotiator, the man who translated demands into laws. In the halls of Congress
he won victories without making enemies because he was strong without ever
being mean. Beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1957, every anti-discrimination
statute for a quarter of a century bears his mark. His life’s work, inspiring
those who shared his hopes and eventually persuading almost all of those
who hesitated, profoundly changed and uplifted the nation."
Washington Post editorial, March 20, 1984.
"In those days, Clarence Mitchell was called the
101st senator, but those of us who served here then knew full
well that this magnificent lion in the lobby was a great deal more influential
than most of us with seats in the chamber."
Senator Howard Baker, Jr., Minority Leader, eulogy in March 1984.
"Clarence Mitchell knew and taught us that the
law, not violence or anarchy, provides the path to the building of a single
society. No monument more accurately perpetuates the principles espoused
by Clarence Mitchell than a court house."
Hon. Nathaniel R. Jones, United States Court of Appeals and former NAACP general counsel at the dedication of the Clarence Mitchell, Jr., Court House in Baltimore, Maryland, March 8, 1985.
"I believe that Clarence and I had a better personal rapport than I had with any of the other civil rights leaders. One that I have subsequently become well acquainted with, of course, is Vernon Jordan. But I knew Vernon when I had a problem in the White House. I got him to come on that commission to review draft dodgers, etc. Vernon, along with 10 or 11 others, did a superb job in reviewing the action of several thousands of draft dodgers, etc.
"But, aside from Clarence, I would say my next
best friend who I had the most rapport with was Vernon Jordan. But, I knew
Clarence earlier and better during the tough times of civil rights legislation.
President Gerald R. Ford, oral history interview, 8/11/98.
"I worked very closely with Clarence on the Voting
Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, all those busing issues that we had that
were so damn tough. There just seemed to be one thing after the other that
were going on at the time. Clarence was the most effective lobbyist on
the outside. If you had Clarence with you it wouldn’t be long before the
whole civil rights movement would be there. Occasionally, if you had to
make a compromise – I don’t have one in mind right now – Clarence was the
guy. Occasionally, he had to turn a corner, or something like that. If
Clarence agreed to it, it would get done. If he didn’t, you might as well
forget about it. He was a very practical, solid but tough guy. If you were
working with him in an honest and full-hearted way, he gave you a hundred
percent in return. If he thought you were slipping around playing games,
he’d spot that right away.
Vice President Walter Mondale, oral history interview, 7/21/99.
Substance and Context
The NAACP’s struggle for the passage of civil rights laws began with the unsuccessful attempt for the Dyer antilynching measure in 1921 and 1922. The next effort occurred during the New Deal, when 13 attempts were made to push civil rights legislation through Congress. They too failed because proponents could not break the southern filibuster. Not until 1957 was the NAACP able to achieve this breakthrough with passage of the first civil rights laws in 82 years. Clarence Mitchell, Jr., led the lonely few who immediately recognized the measure’s importance even though the southerners had gutted it. Though disappointed that he did not get what he wanted, he explained: "The importance of getting that bill through was that we could break the spirit of defeat around here on civil rights legislation."
Thanks to his judicious care in preparing and preserving the records of that struggle as well as of other aspects of his civil rights advocacy, beginning with his position as executive director of the St. Paul Urban League between 1939 and 1941, to his retirement in 1978 as director of the Washington Bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mitchell compiled a treasure trove of history that is indispensable for chronicling and assessing objectively the broader impact of the modern struggle for racial equality on the nation.
To appreciate the full importance of these documents, it is imperative to recognize that the NAACP's struggle for the passage of civil rights laws and promulgation of constructive executive policies to protect the rights of African Americans was rooted in the egalitarian philosophy of the Declaration of Independence and shaped by reason and carefully documented factual evidence. From its founding in 1909, that was the NAACP’s philosophy, which the organization began implementing through the courts very early in its history. Simultaneously, James Weldon Johnson, executive secretary, began crystallizing the organization’s political strategy in its battle against lynching. Key to implementing the political strategy were the network of branches that Johnson also expanded significantly, especially into the South.
It was Walter White, Johnson’s successor, however, who really brought the political strategy to full bloom with his creation of the NAACP Washington Bureau in 1942. In 1950, White relinquished his dual role as director of the bureau and promoted Mitchell to the position. Mitchell previously had been NAACP labor secretary, working out of the bureau. Mitchell consolidated and expanded the bureau’s charter, placing his own indelible stamp on the subsequent struggle.
As an officer of the NAACP, Mitchell spoke for and personified the NAACP in Washington. But the documents he himself produced were legally his. These documents are composed of his reports, speeches, letters, memorandums, congressional testimonies, newspaper columns, scholarly articles, telegrams, and other related studies that he personally prepared. The core documents pertaining to the bureau’s work, approximately 45,000 occupying more than 83.2 linear feet of shelf space, are in the NAACP Washington Bureau collection at the Library of Congress. But Mitchell retained a considerable personal collection at his home. In addition to the NAACP’s administrative collection that are also at the Library of Congress, key documents related to the bureau’s work are at the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, and Carter presidential libraries. Others are in such repositories as the National Archives and the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University. The NAACP’s Board of Directors’ minutes, its annual reports from its founding, and other materials at its national headquarters reinforce Mitchell’s papers. The papers to be edited are further strengthened by the editor’s personal collection.
Because scholars know so little about the broad
scope of the Washington Bureau’s activities, their focus over the past
25 or 30 years has been on the very visual and emotional struggle in the
South in the1960s or on Malcolm X’s role in inspiring black nationalist
pride. They have failed to give adequate recognition to the reality that
the heart of the struggle was not a morality play but a very intense, long-running
series of constitutional battles involving the Congress and the Executive
Branch. The morality plays reinforced the constitutional battles. Mitchell’s
reports and other papers document this aspect of the struggle in Washington.
Author: Denton L. Watson
This page modified on: February 14, 2002
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