Arthur Wergs Mitchell

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Arthur W. Mitchell
Arthur W. Mitchell.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1935 – January 3, 1943
Preceded byOscar S. De Priest
Succeeded byWilliam L. Dawson
Personal details
Born(1883-12-22)December 22, 1883
Lafayette, Alabama
DiedMay 9, 1968(1968-05-09) (aged 84)
Petersburg, Virginia
Political partyRepublican (Until 1932) Democrat (After 1932)
Spouse(s)Eula Mae King (m. January 11, 1905 - d. 1910) 1 son

Annie H. Mitchell (married ca. 1919 - d. March 7, 1947)

Clara D. Smith (m. March 20, 1948 - his death May 9, 1968)
ProfessionLawyer, Farmer

Arthur Wergs Mitchell (December 22, 1883 – May 9, 1968) was a U.S. Representative from Illinois. For his entire congressional career from 1935 to 1943, he was the only African American in Congress. Mitchell was the first African American to be elected to the United States Congress as a Democrat -- he replaced Oscar De Priest, a Republican.

Early life[edit]

Mitchell was born to Taylor Mitchell & Emma (Patterson) in Lafayette, Alabama. He left home at 14 to go to the Tuskegee Institute. He worked on a farm and as an office boy to Booker T. Washington while attending the Institute. Mitchell attended Columbia University briefly and qualified for the bar. He then moved to Chicago, Illinois and began to work for the Republican Party. Mitchell switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in 1932 as he was “ambitious and impatient with the entrenched black Republican leadership, [seeking] a chance for personal advancement in the concurrent rise of the national Democratic party."[1] He was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and served as its 6th International President from 1926-1934.

Political career[edit]

Mitchell was elected to the House of Representatives in 1934, defeating African American congressman Oscar De Priest, who was a Republican. During the election campaign, Mitchell emphasized his support for the New Deal and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's public relief programs.[2] After Mitchell won the election with 53% of the vote, De Priest told him "I congratulate you as [the] first Negro Democratic congressman."[2]

In Congress, Mitchell introduced bills banning lynching and against discrimination. He filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Central and Rock Island Railroads after he was forced into a segregated train car just before it passed into Arkansas. Mitchell's suit was advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court as case Mitchell v. United States,[3] which ruled that the railroad violated the Interstate Commerce Act. He voluntarily chose not to seek re-election in 1942. As his last congressional act, Mitchell condemned politicians as preferring the Axis powers over giving Negros any rights, comparing the atrocities of the Nazis and Japanese with lynchings such as those that had recently occurred in Shubuta, Mississippi.[4]

After Congress[edit]

He moved to Virginia and became a farmer, working twelve acres (49,000 m²) of property. He died at his home in Petersburg, Virginia, on May 9, 1968.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: 78.
  2. ^ a b "Representative Arthur Mitchell of Illinois Defeats Incumbent Oscar De Priest | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  3. ^ 313 U.S. 80 (1941)
  4. ^ "Mitchell says too many prefer axis victory to granting negro rights". Jackson Advocate. December 26, 1942. Retrieved 28 October 2019.

External sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Oscar S. De Priest
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
William L. Dawson