- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

BALTIMORE — Parren J. Mitchell, an eloquent but soft-spoken man who was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a champion of civil rights, died Monday of complications from pneumonia at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 85.

He had been living in a nursing home since having a series of strokes several years ago, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Mr. Mitchell, a Democrat, was a member of one of the country’s prominent civil rights families, dubbed the “Black Kennedys” for their extensive record of service. His brother, Clarence Mitchell Jr., helped shepherd the major civil rights legislation of the late 1950s and 1960s as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s principal lobbyist and was known as “the 101st senator.” Mr. Mitchell’s sister-in-law, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, was the longtime head and legal counsel of the Maryland chapter of the NAACP.

Mr. Mitchell was elected to the House from Baltimore in 1970 after a contentious primary battle against Samuel Friedel that was decided by 38 votes. Mr. Friedel had held the seat since 1952.

Mr. Mitchell served eight terms representing the 7th Congressional District before stepping down in 1986 to be running mate to former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs in his unsuccessful bid for governor. The Sachs ticket was defeated in a Democratic primary by then-Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

Mr. Mitchell also served as a political mentor to former congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat who now represents the 7th District.

“He helped shape and define an era,” said Mr. Mfume, adding that he felt he had lost a second father. “He wasn’t just going up against a doctrine; a lot of times, he was going up against the government and that required a special courage. He had the heart of a lion.”

“Throughout his life, Mr. Mitchell dedicated himself to opening the doors to opportunity for all Americans,” Mr. Cummings said. “He was a true servant leader, never concerning himself about fame or fortune but, rather, devoting himself entirely to uplifting the people he represented.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley said Mr. Mitchell was “a transformational leader,” and a source of inspiration.

“In the midst of a time of upheaval and change, he saw clearly where our nation’s ongoing struggle for justice must head next — economic opportunity for all,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown called Mr. Mitchell “a true warrior for equal rights.”

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who served in the House with Mr. Mitchell, said he “turned his deep commitment to social justice into policies that solidified the accomplishments of the civil rights movement and expanded it to include economic empowerment. He was a path breaker, a champion of social justice — and a dear friend, mentor and colleague.”

Born in Baltimore in 1922, Mr. Mitchell was a graduate of Morgan State College (now Morgan State University), and earned a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, according to information supplied by Mr. Cummings’ office.

Mr. Mitchell served as a commissioned officer in the Army during World War II and received the Purple Heart.

Before his election to Congress, Mr. Mitchell served the administrations of Baltimore Mayors Theodore R. McKeldin and Thomas J. D’Alesandro III and of Gov. J. Millard Tawes.

While in Congress, Mr. Mitchell fought for legislation requiring local governments to set aside 10 percent of federal grants to hire minority contractors. He also gained attention during the Wedtech scandal in the mid-1980s, initiating the congressional investigation that ironically ensnared his two nephews, state Sens. Clarence Mitchell III and Michael Mitchell.

The brothers eventually were sentenced to federal prison for their part in the scandal, which involved bribes to obtain no-bid military contracts. Their uncle was never accused of wrongdoing in the case.

Though confined to a wheelchair and in failing health, Mr. Mitchell remained a fiery advocate for change.

“I saw him a couple of months ago, and he grabbed me by the collar and said, ‘Never stop giving them hell,’ “Mr. Mfume remembered.

n AP reporter Todd Hallidy contributed to this report.

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