When Juanita Jackson Mitchell died in 1992 at the age of 79, she was praised as one of Maryland’s heroines and as the matriarch of a family whose name became synonymous with civil rights causes.
“It was fitting that she received recognition because she was always one of those unsung champions of the cause and one who needs to be celebrated during both Black History and Women’s History month,” said Shane Carter, a self-described “black history buff.”
Mitchell, the daughter of legendary NAACP leader Lillie Carroll Jackson, spent most of her life fighting against racism and segregation.
“I am an old freedom fighter. I came up in that tradition,” Mitchell once said in describing her upbringing.
Mitchell’s parents, who were living in Baltimore at the time, were traveling in Hot Springs, Arkansas when Mitchell was born.
She’d later become one of the first black women to graduate from the University of Maryland Law School and the first black woman to practice law in the state of Maryland.
Her late husband, Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., was a nationally recognized Capitol Hill lobbyist for the NAACP and her children, Michael B. Mitchell and Clarence M. Mitchell III, went on to become state senators.
Mitchell and her family frequently moved across the South as her father showed feature films in church basements, often the only facilities available to Black people while she was growing up. While her father changed movie reels, Mitchell would recite poetry to the moviegoers, according to BlackThen.com.
In 1937, Mitchell became the NAACP’s first national youth director and visited the Scottsboro Boys in prison. Under her leadership, the NAACP youth groups launched a letter-writing campaign to protest the conviction of the Scottsboro Boys.
They also set up a fundraising drive to help support the young men.
She also led the key NAACP Baltimore branch during the same crucial period.
Mitchell founded the Baltimore City-Wide Young People’s Forum in 1931 and the NAACP Youth Movement in 1935.
In 1942, she directed a march on Maryland’s Capitol with 2,000 citizens, as well as the first city-wide “Register and Vote” campaign. The campaign resulted in 11,000 new voter registrations on the books.
In 1958, Mitchell directed the NAACP’s “Register to Vote” campaign, which resulted in over 20,000 new registrations.
She was appointed to Presidential Commissions by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Mitchell was also a member of various organizations that supported the well-being of African Americans, such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the National Association of Negro Business, and the Black American Professional Women’s Club.
In 1986, she was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.
“Folks like Juanita Jackson Mitchell are the folks we often miss during Black History Month and during Women’s History Month because everyone wants to concentrate on celebrities and superstars,” Carter said. “But people should take a minute to look at the history of our real heroes,” he said.