Arthur Mitchell Biography

U.S. Representative (1883–1968)
Arthur Mitchell became the first African American Democrat elected to Congress in 1934.


Born in Alabama on December 22, 1883, Arthur Mitchell studied at the Tuskegee Institute and practiced law before becoming the first African American Democrat elected to the House of Representatives in 1934. An outspoken liberal, he introduced early civil rights and anti-lynching bills. In 1941, he sued a train company for forcing him into a segregated car (Mitchell vs. United States et al, 1941).


US representative. Born December 22, 1883 near Lafayette, Alabama. Mitchell grew up on a farm and went to Tuskegee Institute in 1897 to work as an office boy for Booker T Washington. He taught in rural schools in Georgia and Alabama and then founded and served 10 years as president of the Armstrong Agricultural School in West Butler, AL. He studied law, was admitted to the bar (1927), and began practicing in Washington, DC, before moving to Chicago (1929) where he engaged in the real-estate business while practicing law.

Like most African-Americans up to that time, he had entered political life as a Republican, but with President Roosevelt's New Deal he switched to the Democratic Party. In 1934 he defeated the venerable Republican African-American Oscar De Priest, to become the first Democratic African-American in the US House of Representatives (Illinois, 1935??43). An outspoken liberal, he denounced the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and nominated black youths to the US military academies.

After Mitchell had been forced out of a Pullman car in Arkansas, he sued for the right of African-Americans to receive the same accommodations as whites in interstate transportation, and argued his case before the US Supreme Court (Mitchell vs. United States et al, 1941), though it was 1955 before the practice was changed. He continued to fight for the rights of African-Americans, and in 1942 proposed to outlaw all poll taxes on the grounds that if blacks could fight for the USA they were entitled to vote. On leaving the House he settled in Petersburg, VA and remained active as a lecturer and with such organizations as the Southern Regional Council.

Mitchell died on May 9, 1968.

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