Clarence Mitchell, Jr., is
unique in the pantheon of civil rights history. Born in Baltimore,
Maryland, on March 18, 1911, he led the struggle in Washington for
passage of the civil rights laws and promulgation of constructive
national policies to protect the constitutional rights of African
Americans and all other citizens suffering discrimination because of
race, national origin, religion, sex, age, or sexual orientation.
After serving from 1941 to
1946 as a line officer in the Office of Production Management and
subsequently in the Fair Employment Practice Committee, he joined
the national staff of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People in Washington as labor secretary. From 1950 to
1978 he was director of the NAACP Washington Bureau as well as
legislative chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Lion in the Lobby
chronicles Mitchell’s life story and mission in getting the Congress
to join the courts and the Executive Branch in upholding the
Constitution to fulfill the NAACP’s egalitarian philosophy. His work
encompassed the contributions of eight presidents, from Franklin D.
Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, in a mission to build a legacy of
advocacy that won him the popular tribute of “101st
senator,” and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Every civil rights
law from the 1957 Civil Rights Act to the 1968 Fair Housing Act,
plus their strengthening provisions and constructive executive
policies, bears his imprimatur.
The revised Lion in the
Lobby is strengthened by a detailed account of the bitter battle
within the NAACP over Mitchell’s retirement. His indomitable
personality defined what he saw as an unfair transition that robbed
him and other veterans in 1976 of the opportunity to succeed Roy
Wilkins as executive director of the organization.
The book is further
strengthened by the addition of a chapter on his term from 1939 to
1941 in Minnesota as executive director of the St. Paul Urban
League. The chapter shows the systemic discrimination patterns of
the upper Midwest that were characteristic of racism in the North.
Mitchell fought against segregation in organized labor, an
experience he used in Washington.
The revised edition provides
a fuller picture of Mitchell’s differences with the philosophy of
nonviolence. He regarded the racial confrontations in the South as
antithetical to the reasoning nature of lobbying. Those differences
further delineated the organizational approach of the veteran NAACP,
which worked within the government, in contrast to the younger
groups, who worked from outside. Lion in the Lobby shows the
extent to which the NAACP was a mighty political machine with
Mitchell as the organization’s chief strategist. It confirms that
while the younger groups made the South the epicenter, the modern
civil rights movement was national.
Through the NAACP’s
nationwide branch network and the LCCR, Mitchell amassed the votes
in Congress to pass the laws, which were essential for the success
of the modern civil rights revolution. He did so by organizing
bipartisan coalitions in both houses that included conservative
Republicans and liberal Democrats. Next to the Dixiecrats, he was an
astute vote counter and expert parliamentarian. He learned those
lessons from Lyndon Baines Johnson as Senate Majority Leader and
others like Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., before their once-dynamic
alliance degenerated into a public name-calling brawl after the
colorful Harlem Congressman attacked Mitchell. The revised edition
expands considerably on the earlier account of their relationship,
which began in the 1950s, when the congressman began introducing the
Powell Amendment to bar discrimination in federal funding for
education, hospitals and other programs.