Camera Rolls: 317:29-31
Sound Rolls: 317:16-17
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Michael Mitchell , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Sound roll. Take one.
OK, so why don't you, where do you want to begin, begin with how your father came to go to Princess Anne and when he arrived there what he saw.
I remember sitting around our kitchen table and my father explained to my brothers, and myself, and my mother, the impact of the lynching of George Armwood on him, and how that affected what he would do in terms of civil rights for the rest of his life. I remember his vivid description of using the, a old Lincoln car to travel down to Princess Anne. They had heard on radio broadcast the day of the lynching that a lynching was going to take place, and the head of the wanted him to cover that along with a photographer Paul Henderson and two other reporters.
That drive to Princess Anne by my father he said, was with a lot of mixed emotions because there had been threats made against any Afro reporters coming in to record this, and generally all reporters.
** And at some point he remembered someone had put a weapon, a hand gun, in the car for him, but he felt a spirit of going forward on a mission, and really didn't use that and left it in the car. And felt that he needed to accurately record what was going to happen, and he was fresh from a Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, graduated, he had been reporting approximately a year.
Can we cut for one second?
OK, so how is it, how is it that they went in the first place?
In October of 1932, Clarence Mitchell Jr., a young reporter, received a call from Dr. Carl Murphy to cover the detention of a George Armwood in the Princess Anne jail. What had happened, Mr. Armwood had been arrested and been brought to Baltimore, and was spirited back to the Eastern Shore. There were radio broadcasts that were monitored by Dr. Murphy and he assigned Clarence Mitchell Jr., Paul Henderson, and two other reporters to go to Princess Anne and cover this first-hand because
the townspeople had broadcast
** that they were going to lynch George Armwood prior to his even being charged with an offense, he had simply been arrested at that point.
** Clarence Mitchell—
Hang on a second. Can you just, you can say "my father," in fact I prefer that you say "my father" rather than Clarence. When I say from his point of view, but—
"My father," you can personalize it, that's—
That's OK. So let's pick it up from, from—
Does that say take fifty-four? OK. [laughs]
No, no, we'll pick it up from, from the trip out, that they, starting out.
My father said that they
** got into Dr. Carl Murphy's old Lincoln, Paul Henderson was driving. They were originally scheduled to go across on the ferry between Annapolis and the eastern shore of Maryland, but because of death threats that had been received concerning any black reporters, or other reporters coming to cover this, they devised a route through the northern counties of Maryland to on come down through Delaware to get to Princess Anne, so that it was a rather long drive. When my father was riding he was filled with mixed emotions because, here he had just finished college and was talking about the ideals of democracy, and here in his own home state they were talking about broadcasting the murder of a man before even trial. And he wanted to be that person to record those events so that he could probably hopefully collectively prick the conscience of the general community. They, traveling in those roads, back roads of the upper shore of Maryland, someone had put a revolver in the car and he of course immediately concealed it because he recognized that that would be futile and his job was a reporter. They arrived in Princess Anne around, in the early morning hours immediately after the lynching of George Armwood. And my father told about the smell and stench of burning—
OK, hang on, can we cut for a second?
So, why don't you tell me what, what he found when he arrived?
When my father arrived in Princess Anne in the early morning hours, George Armwood was dead. He found George Armwood's body in the town square, still smoldering in the ashes. Upon close examination of the body he found that one of the ears had been cut off, and subsequently found it was sold as a souvenir. He found during examining the mouth of George Armwood the teeth had been removed, gold teeth, and sold as souvenirs. Here was this corpse of a life just snuffed out and still smoldering in the town square, and people were simply going about their normal business in the morning, walking by this dead man. He began immediately to talk to some of the whites who were around there, and he said that a terrible feeling came over him, it was that here his fellow man he just saw in the square. A few moments before that was a life, and here state officials in collusion with the townspeople, the local judge, the sheriff, people who were supposed to be respected in the community were part of a lynch mob. And he found that the body was deliberately displayed that way to, as a sign to intimidiate blacks and get the message out.
What was the reaction of the black people that he found?
The reaction of blacks was fear, and in fact, he said he had put his reporter card in his hat band, and he said by interesting quirk the racists in the effort to get the message to other blacks,
allowed him to interview people because they wanted blacks, they figured an Afro reporter would really let blacks know what would happen to blacks if they got out of line. And, he began to talk with whites, and he saw a young, white mother bring her child who was no more than seven, eight years old, to walk by and look at this charred body, and said, "Look how we barbecued that nigger."
** And people were just as, going on with their normal activities. He talked with the black members of the community who were so fearful and afraid, who had hidden out that night, and it was a lesson to them because they were—this is 1933, and in 1931 there had been a lynching just thirty miles or so from Princess Anne in Salisbury.
OK, let's cut for a second.
You don't want that—
My father upon arriving in—
Just one second now. OK, now. So when he got there—
My father upon arriving in Princess Anne saw the body of George Armwood who had been dead for several hours. Upon close examination of the body he found that it was still smoldering, and there was a stench of burnt flesh that pervaded the air. He saw that there were numerous bruises to the head and body, that it was, the body was in a fetal position. He saw upon examining the mouth the teeth had been removed, and saw the bits of rope still part of the noose that was used, was still part on the, was on the body. He saw—this was in the early morning hours and in the open town square. And he told us he was concerned as to why they even, they didn't remove the body. He told us that he, with his talks with people, learned that this was to be an example for blacks.
OK, start that again and tell me when he talked with white people, as he talked with white—first of all how did he get to talk to white people in the town—
—was he threatened about talking to white people in the town?
OK. No he, he wasn't, and my father was—
You got to start by repeating the quote, making a statement as opposed to answering a question.
Right, my father wasn't frightened about any person. He began talking with the whites, he had put his reporter card in his hat and wanted to record this, this inhumanity, and therefore he wanted to talk to as many people, white and black, as possible. The whites he initially encountered told him that a group of people from Virginia had come across the state line and lynched George Armwood, that nobody, the whites he talked to, knew who did it. There was an incredible scene of a young, white mother with her child only seven, eight years of age, walking by this body of George Armwood, and the mother pointing to the body—
—and telling the child, "I want you to see this barbecued nigger," and the child protesting that it was too grotesque.
OK, let's cut. We ran out.
My father upon returning to Baltimore with these first-hand observations of the lynching of George Armwood wanted to rally the community. He at that time was also the vice-president of what was called the Youth Forum of Baltimore City, and began to immediately assemble the officers of that group and report his findings. Of course he had already done the story and it was in the . He began going to different churches to speak, he even in consult with various groups, the socialists, even the communist party, there was a Bernard Aities[?] who was an attorney, and others, groups who formed a coalition against lynching. And he caused there to be, with the help of the forum and by his first-reporting and seeing this, a witness to the atrocity in man's, in humanity, to man, that was within a stone's throw of Baltimore City, just across the Bay. He very eloquently, my father said, tried to describe what he saw and, what he wanted to inspire community to protest this, but within the system, to try and enact an anti-lynching law. What had been pending before the Congress was the Costigan-Wagner Act that had been lingering in the Congress for some years. And he began to use his skills as a writer to memorialize these things and put it in an order and help form the coalition with Mrs. Elizabeth Gilman, my mother Juanita Jackson—they weren't married at that time—to go to Washington in February of '34 to actually testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the George Armwood lynching.
OK, great, hang on a second. Cut.
So, tell me about the testifying. You said it was actually a traumatic experience.
Yeah, my father related that the testifying was rather traumatic in that they had studied democracy and here they were appearing as young people, twenty-two years of age, before the highest legislative body in this country. And appearing before all of these white males, here he was a young black from Baltimore along with other forum members and other concerned white citizens in this coalition to testify in favor of the Costigan-Wagner Anti-Lynching Law. He said there was an effort by the members of Congress to diminish the significance of his observations of what happened to George Armwood and the aftermath of all that. There was an air of indifference, he told us, by members of Congress generally to this rather poignant testimony of himself and others, and that what this was designed to do to keep blacks in place in this country. And that he and Maryland-
OK, let's move on. What about your mother? How did it feel for her to go and testify at such a young age?
My mother told us that this was without any fear. She went to Washington because she felt that this was her constitutional right to redress grievances, and as the president of the forum here in Baltimore, she would present their position. They had collected over 4,000 signatures on a petition in support of the Costigan-Wagner Act and was going to tell the members of Congress whether they wanted to hear it or not. That what had happened to George Armwood was wrong, and they had a responsibility to do something about this atrocious crime that was being used to thwart the efforts and hopes and aspirations of blacks in this country. she had been to the University of Pennsylvania—
OK, hang on a second. How was it for her—that's all right, I mean, we got what we needed—how was it for her as a young woman, just personally, to go before this august body? Was she intimidated, was she—?
I, my mother, we growing up never had a problem with male chauvinism or respecting women in their right to be equals in the process. My mother, at the age of eighteen and nineteen formed this Youth Forum,—and was in concert with my father, as youth leaders—went to Washington with the idea that she felt as equal as the males in presenting the position, and that in felt, in fact felt that she as a woman could better articulate some of the concerns that were felt by members of the black community, and the white community in general. It's important to note, that my mother in testifying felt that, this universal belief in the brotherhood of mankind because there were members of the white community with her, members of the socialist party, Elizabeth Gilman, a Reverend Asbury Smith, others who joined with them and took a courageous stand to appear at the United States Senate Judiciary Committee to help members of the community redress these grievances.
OK, hang on a second.
I didn't like that.
Your mother was only, I think maybe she was twenty, twenty-one years old?
She was twenty, approximately twenty-one. She had turned twenty-one in January of 1934, and never felt a problem with her equal status with men in moving about the community or articulating issues. We were taught at an early age to respect womanhood, and that the men and women were equal. And that she had the additional burden to overcome, she said, of being a woman who was young and black, to be the leader of this effort, and there was the initial indifference shown by members of Congress as she reported one point that said, "Well what does this little girl want?" And of course she immediately corrected whatever that member of Congress was and said that she was a young woman, and that she was about a mission to bring to the, to hopefully prick the conscience of that legislative body as to why there needed to be movement on the Costigan-Wagner Act.
Great, great, cut. Good.
My father told us upon returning from the—
Hang on a second, keep it in the period. I don't, I want you to tell it from his point of view. Not what he told you, but that this is what happened according, we understand, but this is what happened according to him.
My father upon returning from Princess Anne of course filed his story and then immediately went to see my grandmother, Mrs. Lillie M. Jackson, who was sort of, part of the bedrock of the Youth Movement and Agitation in Baltimore City, and talked with her and her daughter, my mother, Juanita Jackson, and met at their home at 1216 Druid Hill Avenue, which was sort of the de facto office of the Youth Forum. My father said at that point that it was Ms. Lillie M. Jackson who says, "We need to let people know what happened," and they then immediately organized a march and decided that because of the traffic on Druid Hill Avenue being a main artery in the city of Baltimore, that there were whites and blacks coming back and forth, and decided that it would be best to have a picket line and a silent protest march to let people know what happened. And they began to immediately paint picket signs in the living room of 1216 Druid Hill Avenue. They then began to call their network of these young people—and you can remember it was a group of young men and women who didn't have to do this. They went across class lines, they were the young Ivy League graduates such as Donald Gaines Murray, Aime Harrison [?], Thurgood Marshall—who had just finished law school—who was helping to paint the signs for this protest march. They then decided that, to start marching up Druid Hill Avenue with the view toward it, having the march end at a mass meeting, which was their regular Youth Forum night, Friday night mass meeting. They then went and talked with, I believe it was Reverend C.C. Ferguson of Bethel AME Church, and my father remembers, after telling Rev. Ferguson that it was decided that the Bethel bell would toll because of the loss of George Armwood, and this rather solemn tolling of the bell was a signal to people that something was, was up because this was a ghetto then, and within ten square blocks the entire West-Baltimore black population lived. And as they marched silently up Druid Hill Avenue, the Bethel bell tolled for George Armwood.
Great, cut for a second.
Take what? What take?
And my father told of coming to 1216 Druid Hill Avenue-
Don't, don't do the whole thing, I just want the painting of the, the young people coming together and the painting of signs.
Father told of us of these young people who then came back to paint signs, or, that was cross-section of not only the educated, young people, but the working blacks of the community joined forces to prepare these picket signs. And among them, Mr. Justice Thurgood Marshall—
OK, hang on a second. Let's do it again because they weren't working right, there were a lot of people out of jobs because of the Depression. You don't have to talk about your father told you, just talk about, "a lot of young people came together..." OK.
A lot of young people came together to prepare these picket signs and paint them themselves for the silent protest march. Among them, Mr. Justice Thurgood Marshall, Donald Gaines Murray—
We've got to change rolls.
He's not the justice yet.
You have to stay in the—
A young Thurgood Marshall.
Sound roll change to seventeen. Take ten, sorry.
It was the scene of these young people, some out of work, some college students, among them Thurgood Marshall, Donald Gaines Murray, and others, preparing the picket signs for this silent protest march up and down Druid Hill Avenue. And I remember my father tell—
It's all right, start over. It's all right, start over.
I wanted to say—
Start over with, "they all gathered at my grandmother's house to paint signs..."
All of these young forum members, some unemployed, some college students, gathered at my grandmother's house to paint these picket signs for the silent protest march against the George Armwood lynching. And among them, Thurgood Marshall, and Arthur—[sighs]
There was this group of young forum members at my grandmother's home preparing the picket signs, some out of work, some college students. Among them, a young Thurgood Marshall, Donald Gaines Murray, and others. And then this march, going up and down Druid Hill Avenue protesting the lynching of George Armwood, that ended at the Bethel Church. And as they marched in, the Bethel bell tolled for George Armwood, and my father remembers the words of Sterling Brown coming to him as that scene of people coming in and the bell tolling: "Strong men gittin' [sic] stronger."
OK, let's do it one more time. Relax, take a deep breath, and just tell the scene. You can visualize the scene and just tell what you see. Go ahead when you're ready.
See you've got to do a little, I've got to leave the Sterling—
There was this magnificent scene of young forum members, some out of work, some college students, at my grandmother's house preparing the picket signs for the silent protest march against the lynching of George Armwood. Among them a young Thurgood Marshall, Donald Gaines Murray, and others. And as they marched up and down Druid Hill Avenue they came to the entrance of Bethel Church, and that tolling of that Bethel bell was a signal to the community that they were meeting in memoriam to the lynching of Brother Armwood. My father remembers the words of Sterling Brown coming to him as he saw the people filing in in a silent protest, strong men. And he thought about those Sterling Brown words that said, "Thou shalt not this, thou shalt not that. You laugh, they shout prohibitions at you. But one thing they cannot stop is strong men gittin' stronger, strong men." [sic] I don't know.
My father told us about the Donald Gaines Murray decision and what a great day that was in 1935. Upon sitting before white, Irish Judge Eugene O'Dunn in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, who—
OK, stop. Start over, just start with—
Yeah, let me think—
—we'll pick up the [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . Just start with the fact that my father, my father thought that this case was going to be a long, drawn-out case-
You can start with that.
My father thought the Donald Gaines Murray lawsuit would be a long, protracted legal affair and had brought a number of notepads to be the, to cover this as the reporter. And after the presentation by Charles Hamilton Houston, who very succinctly put the, the application of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, protection of Donald Gaines Murray's right to enter the University of Maryland Law School. Here a white, Irish judge issued the mandate immediately for the admission of Donald Gaines Murray, saying that he learned in law school that your constitutional rights were like a cloak, that you either had them or you didn't, and that the University of Maryland Law School were denying Donald Gaines Murray his constitutional rights. My father said he leaped from the seat and ran from the court house to the office to file the story. And he said as he was running up Druid Hill Avenue he remembers again the tolling of the Bethel bell for this magnificent victory because here they were opening up the first graduate school of the University of Maryland school system to a black, Donald Gaines Murray. And it's interesting that Donald Gaines Murray was the grandson of the bishop of the AME Church, Bishop Gaines, where this bell was tolling in jubilation, not in memoriam, this time.
My mother as president of the city-wide Young People's Forum was recruited by Walter White, the executive secretary of the National NAACP, to be the first youth secretary of the NAACP. In 1935, she moved to New York, and Mike Knope [?] was put under the care, by my grandmother, of Rev. and Mrs. Adam Clayton Powell Sr., and actually lived with them during her stay in New York. To organize and reinvigorate the Youth Chapters of the NAACP on a national basis, she was taking this anti-lynching fight nationally. She found that through here experiences of testifying for the Costigan-Wagner Act that they were the only, they were the only state members there to protest. And she wanted to galvanize support across the country, and she traveled through all the states, really articulating the concerns of these young people. As she said, she had, had a taste of freedom. She had come from a segregated Baltimore and spent her time getting a degree at the University of Pennsylvania where she saw blacks working as fire fighters, as policemen, she could go into the theaters, she could sit down and eat a lunch with white students, and then come back home to Baltimore and couldn't do any of that. She said that stirred within her, this passion for freedom, that she wanted to tell the word, spread the gospel as she said. And she said she would always tell these people that hers was a Christian effort because she had come out of the Epworth League of the Methodist Church. And her telling question always was, "What would Christ do if he saw blacks being lynched in his time? What would Christ do if he saw young people simply because of the color of their skin being denied educational opportunities, and jobs, and the right to enjoy life?" And she said that became a burning passion within her. And she organized those branches, in fact, was in a number of southern towns, and created some of the largest Youth Chapters across the country. She also, of-
OK, let's cut, let's cut.
Hold it one second.
My grandmother Lillie Mae Jackson believes—
I'm sorry, start again please.
My grandmother Lillie Mae Jackson believed in the value of an education. She said getting an education was important, and that these young people who got that education couldn't segregate themselves into an intelligentsia few. They had a responsibility to come back and give their talents to, for the uplift of their people. She said, "Service in this movement was the rent they paid for their existence on this earth."
OK, so again, from the—
My father saw the—
—going back, going back, trying to—
Yeah, I'm getting read to describe the courtroom.
You don't have to describe the courtroom, just picture what your father was doing when he went, and how—
Yeah, right, that's what I'm saying. My father walked into that courtroom and the hearing here presiding was this white-Irish judge, Eugene O'Dunn, and at the trial table was Thurgood Marshall, a young lawyer, and in between him was Donald Gaines Murray, and on the left side was Charles Hamilton Houston. And then on the state side was the assistant attorney general, and here were the courtroom, were packed with members of the Forum and the black community of Baltimore, and Ms. Lillie Mae Jackson had organized them. And he was getting ready, he thought, for a long, protracted legal hearing, and when, and after the presentation Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall the judge immediately got the point that you, about your constitutional rights. And here
the courtroom erupted in jubilation, as my father said, he knew there was a god, because this was a miracle. Here, just two years before a man had been lynched, and here was a judge saying that we as blacks had a constitutional right to an equal, educational opportunity
** in the Maryland school system.
And then what did he do?
Start again, I'm going to change the focal length, I'm sorry.
So after the courtroom erupted what did he do?
Yeah, after this eruption in the courtroom my father grabbed his papers and then ran the distance from the courthouse to the to file this story. And then as he was running up Druid Hill Avenue he heard the Bethel bell tolling in celebration of this magnificent vindication of their efforts to redress their grievances, and that in fact, America's promises were beginning to be fulfilled for this black community in Baltimore.
Great, thank you. Cut.