The ‘greatest story never told’ by those who knew, loved and admired ‘the Bear’
He was a leader many fell in love with for his capacity to captivate you with a warm smile, a booming yet subtle voice and a wealth of intellectual and institutional knowledge about politics and life that left you yearning for more. He was a man who was able to take the information given to him from the legacy being written during his youth by his family, as well as incorporate the laws of the street into what became one of the greatest political legacies Baltimore has ever known. Most knew him as C3, others as Senator Mitchell; however, those who were close to him simply referred to him as – ‘the Bear’.
Clarence Mitchell III, who was the youngest person ever elected to the Maryland House of Delegates at age 22 (1963-1967), had humble beginnings that he never relinquished from his psyche and character, growing up on the mean streets of the Harlem Park area of West Baltimore. He was the son of a civil rights icon, Clarence Mitchell Jr., who was married to a civil rights activist, Juanita Jackson Mitchell; and their offspring became a civil rights giant! His father was known as the 101st Senator based on his tireless advocacy on behalf of the oldest and boldest civil rights organization in America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; while his mother was the first African-American woman to practice law in Maryland, whose mother (Dr. Lillie Carroll Jackson) revitalized the Baltimore Branch NAACP through her 35-years of leadership.
His uncle Parren was a Congressman for Maryland, the 7th Congressional District; and was possibly the greatest political leader and mentor that ever graced the state – responsible for half the black leadership in office today. Clarence’s brother Michael served with him in the council and in the Senate, where Clarence elevated to after only one term in the House of Delegates. His son Clarence Mitchell IV elevated to the Maryland State Senate as well in the current 44th district, while his nephew Keiffer Mitchell served in the city council and now serves as a delegate in the historic district known to breed great Mitchell leaders – the 44th. They are a family knee deep in rich history that helped blacks become who they are today, and are known by most political historians as the ‘Black Kennedys’ – or maybe the Kennedys are the ‘White Mitchells’.
And yet through all that in-depth, and sometimes head scratching, family history; it still doesn’t really explain who the man known as ‘the Bear’ was. He was a big, towering and somewhat intimidating man, but was a gentle soul who knew his purpose in life – and wanted to ensure others did as well. “The only way you’ll get adequate or fair representation son, is if you demand it from those who have the power to give it,” he use to say to me. “Life is given to us to serve, whether that be in public office, or simply to serve a purpose through other means; ultimately, public service in some shape or form is what should be expected of everyone. And if you don’t serve your family, your community or your people; than what purpose do you serve Hassan? What good are you to anyone?” And while those words will continue to resonate within my spirit for a lifetime, I’ll unfortunately never get to hear them again, because on October 11, 2012, the man I once saw as invisible, finally lost his last fight at age 72 – after a tremendous battle with cancer.
“The passing of Clarence Mitchell III should cause us to pause and take inventory of all that he and his family did against great odds to help shape the America we know today,” said Kweisi Mfume, his friend, colleague and the man who eventually took his uncle Parren’s 7th congressional district seat. “Clarence was a force to be reckoned with. He was a political gladiator who overwhelmed his opponents and electrified his supporters with his steadfastness and unshakable dedication to his principles and his family!” Having a hand in civil rights struggles on the floor of the House and the Senate in Maryland, Mitchell was – at the time of his service – the only African American serving a state that saw a growing population of blacks. He was not allowed in the same cafeteria or lounge as his white colleagues, yet was still amongst the best representatives in Annapolis.
“If you segregate me because I am dirty, I can wash. If you segregate me because I have no education, I can get educated. If you segregate me, however, because of my color, I can do nothing about this. I cannot wash off my color.” ~ Clarence Mitchell III
“He was a man who had a strong commitment to his community and would work through almost any situation in order to make someone else’s life better,” said former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. “He always encouraged me, especially when the redistricting took place and my shoe dropped (giggle); he and his mother understood the importance in having representation in Baltimore, so they both told me to drop the other shoe.” And yet, he seemed to be just that to everyone who has come encounter with the humble giant – a mentor of sorts.
He was certainly that to one young activist in Baltimore. Reverend Cortly ‘C.D.’ Witherspoon remembers the life and times of ‘the Bear’ real well. “I met ‘the Bear’ at Unity United Methodist Church at an event for former Baltimore City Deputy Police Commissioner Barry Powell, during the early part of 2000,” recalls Witherspoon. “C4, who I worked as a campaign volunteer for, introduced me to him and we exchanged contact information, developed a relationship, and remained in contact with each other from then on.” The young political and civil rights activists says he recalls Mitchell giving him advice he didn’t want to hear at the time, when he had decided at 21, to run for the Baltimore City Council. “He disapproved, and told me so, and encouraged me to run for the state central committee. The city council run did not work in my favor, but I was elected to the state central committee 3 years later, in the same district he represented, with his endorsement. He was right, I was wrong; and like he told me – a hard head makes a soft behind.”
And C3 was just that, a mentor to many young wannabe politicos such as myself when I was a young pup in the game (still am in many respects); yet, he never nurtured his political relationships with the younger generation as if he was better than or superior to. “He was a sound adviser, mentor and most of all, friend,” says Witherspoon, which in many respects details exactly who he was to most. “As a boy working on his campaign, knocking on doors with adult neighbors, I was introduced to a positive strong black man and came to know Senator Clarence Mitchell III,” says Prince George’s County Senator Anthony Muse, who credits Mitchell for the seat he now sits in. “I serve as a Maryland State Senator on the shoulders of GREAT men like Senator Mitchell, as we have lost a GREAT warrior and mentor who left us better off because he struggled to make life better for us all!”
We shall miss you sir, yet somehow I know you will be in heaven debating the issues we face with God himself, with that big, booming voice; trying ever so desperately to get your point across as our representative in the sky. “Clarence was never among the faint at heart, for he fed off of the doubt of others and took great risks to help change a society that today we take for granted,” remembers Mr. Mfume. “He recognized that you never back down from what you believe in, for when you were in a fight with Clarence you knew you were going to either survive or get knocked out. I will miss his rugged individuality, resourcefulness and his distinctive character; as he was in the truest sense – an American original.”
Services for Clarence Mitchell III will be held this Sunday, October 21, 2012 at Sharp Street United Methodist Church, Dolphin and Etting Streets. Family services begin at 3:00p, with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity services following at 3:45p and the final memorial service for the public at 4:00p. A repast will follow at New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe St.
The Mitchell Family has indicated that the Senator Clarence M. Mitchell, III Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund has been established at Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland. In lieu of flowers, the Mitchell Family requests that donations be sent the scholarship fund. Checks should be made payable to: the Morgan State University Foundation And on the “For” line in lower left corner of the check indicate: Senator Clarence M. Mitchell, III Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund.
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