Camera Rolls: 317:33-34
Sound Rolls: 317:18
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Parren Mitchell , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 26, 1992, 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.*
OK, so let's go back to '33, the, after the Armwood lynching, and tell me the impression, I know it made a huge impression after your brother, after Clarence came back.
Yeah, after the Armwood lynching, that was one of the most traumatic experiences of my young life. My family always ate together, my mother insisted that we have dinner together. We sat, and waited, and waited, and waited. We were waiting for my brother Clarence, whose nickname was Bill, and finally he came and he sat down to eat. My mother said we could eat, and once he started he simply regurgitated, embarrassed him tremendously. He got up and left the table to clean himself up. That was, later on he told me about the lynching, he had covered, I think that was the last lynching in Maryland, the Armwood lynching. I loved my older brother very much, he was big and I was small, he was an athlete and I was not, and he loved me in a gentle, strong, brother fashion. I was so angry, because I knew something had hurt him, and it was something, I couldn't do anything about it. I guess I wanted to cry, and couldn't do that, I guess I wanted to fight, and couldn't do that. I guess covering that last lynching on the Eastern Shore of Maryland just gave him enormous pain, psychological and physical, and it gave me enormous pain, I guess vicariously, because I cared so deeply about Clarence, about Bill. I wouldn't want to go through that again, I wouldn't want to see someone I loved hurt, and not be able to do anything about it. I wouldn't want to see him endure some kind of suffering.
Did he talk about it?
I mean, he obviously reacted physically, did he actually talk to you about, or to the family about what he had seen?
Yeah, well, he talked to me, I'm sure he talked to the rest of the family, but he talked to me. And he was telling me that it was, a terrible thing that had occurred on the Eastern Shore, that a black man had been lynched. He called him a Negro, that was the term at that time, and how badly mutilated the body was. I remember him telling me he couldn't understand what kind of people would do things like that. When we were talking, it was up in my room, in my bedroom, he was indicating to me that, somehow or another, he just didn't think human beings could become that depraved, that degenerate, that they would mutilate the body of a man they had lynched. It was bad enough to have lynched him, but to have mutilated the body...of course, that conversation just made matters worse, for me. I'm not too anxious to talk too much about that, because after all these years it still is, kind of, see it in my brain, and it was a tough experience.
Thank you. How did he go on, how did this event go on to influence his life and his work? What did he take from that, and how did it influence his work?
I know that Clarence was profoundly moved by the lynching, and I know that he had a very strong feeling, even before the lynching, about prejudice and discrimination and segregation. I'm convinced in my heart of hearts that that even made him feel more intense about his convictions. Later on in life, when he became the lobbyist for the NAACP, I would think of the number of years he worked to try and get an anti-lynching bill passed in the Congress of the United States. I, I just have to believe that as he walked those halls and lobbied the members of the House and Senate, he was thinking about that last lynching, the one that he had covered. Shortly thereafter—
Excuse me, Steven, we should stop.
OK, I know this is difficult to go through again, but if we can talk a bit more about how you think that event influenced his work, and not even so much in his later life, but in the immediate, what kind of activities did he engage in with the [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ?
Mm-hm. I know full well that that incident had a [sic] enormously significant impact on his life. A couple of things come to mind. One, in his later life, lobbying for the passage of an anti-lynching bill. I'm certain that that's—
Somebody's coming out of the door again, let's stop.
I don't think I'll ever know the full impact of what that incident had on my brother's life, but I know it had—
I'm sorry, stop for a second. I can see your shadow, you're in front of the light.
You have to sit down. OK, sorry, I'm sorry. One last—
Don't roll a dern [sic] thing. All right. I don't think I'll ever really know what impact that incident had on my brother's life, but I know it had a very positive impact. In his later life, he lobbied unceasingly to get an anti-lynching bill passed, and as I recall, it's a little fuzzy to me right now, but I think shortly thereafter, a group of people including my brother started to organize, to get a Maryland state anti-lynching bill passed, I'm almost positive I recall that. I remember there was a rally and a parade, right in the neighborhood, and Clarence, as always, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] me by the hand to take me there. I remember we were in a parade going down, maybe, maybe Druid Hill Avenue, maybe Division—Druid Hill, it would have been, and we were carrying signs, Stop the Lynching. My sign was just about as big as I was, but I knew that this was an important thing to do. As I remembered, I think I was the only child in that, but I remember a lot of confusion and a lot of grown-ups moving around me, and they were yelling, and screaming, and chanting. What they were saying I don't know, but I got caught up in the sense that this was another, kinda crusade thing that my brother had dragged me into. I guess I was happy to be a part of it, I enjoyed being a part of those things with him.
Did he take you to the Forum meetings too, and do you recall going to any of those meetings and what kind of influence that had on you?
I went to Forum meetings with my brother Clarence as often as I could, and as often as he could take me. I suppose, when I started going, I was simply too young to fully comprehend all that was going on. Generally Clarence and Juanita were officiating in some capacity, and they left me sitting in a pew. So many things happened...I remember Walter White coming and talking to that city-wide Young People's Forum, and I remember that he was speaking very strongly about the way the Negro had been treated in America. The term was Negro, at that time. I remember, so well, when Walter Reuther, who was head of the United Autoworkers came. I remembered him because he was fiery, I guess as a kid I had a tendency to doze off if I was left in one pew too long, but I remember him really, just, pulling out all the stops, talking about the working man, and the working man and the Negro being part and parcel of the same corps. I remember the, I remember the people stood up and cheered for him when he reached some very dramatic point, I don't recall exactly what he said, but that was an experience that was good for me. I, I admit, quite frankly, I certainly did not understand everything, but it was almost like, like osmosis, something just sorta seeped into you. I know that that served me well in my later life. I'm desperately trying to remember if Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at that Young People's Forum.
I think she did, but I think that was later, I think she came in later. Walter White, a little bit about Walter White. What kind of a ma—what kind of impression did he make when you were sitting there? Did he, was he forceful, was he righteous, what kind of a, he seems to be, along with Walter Reuther, one of the ones who sticks out in your memory.
Why Walter White?
First of all, because I thought he was a white man. He was a, quote, "Negro"—
Can you start out by saying, 'Walter White', by saying what you remember of Walter White?
Yeah, yeah, OK. I recall Walter White quite vividly, because I thought he was a white man in this all-black setting. He was very, very fair, but he was a Negro, and he was just determined to put an end to segregation. I remember him talking more about segregation and education, that it's just wrong to separate these children out. Snatches of it come back to me as I think about it. In fact, I remember at one point he said something that made the crowd get to its feet, and what he said- well, that's was evident of the kind of dynamic personality he had. That was such an enriching experience. I don't know many other 'great' figures addressed that city-wide Young People's Forum, but I'm grateful that my brother took me there, and I'm grateful that I set [sic] there and sort of, picked up on all of it.
Great, thank you. Can we cut for a second?
Another thing that comes to mind. During that period was when a black man filed into the University of Maryland law school, and won. I recall so vividly Juanita, my sister-in-law, was just ecstatic. She was saying, We won, we won, we won. Then, I remember both Clarence and Juanita explaining to me that the state of Maryland, it's educational institutions, simply would not admit us. Juanita told me about how
they would pay tuition for us to go out of state to get a college education or a professional degree, rather than admit us to any of the state institutions of higher learning.
** But it was, it was the sense of victory that Juanita manifested so exuberantly, We won, we won. And it was a significant victory. If you look at it, had that not happened, how many more years would we have waited to try to crack open that door again?
** I had the pleasure of knowing Donald Gaines Murray later on in life. I did not know him well when that victory came, but certainly because of the fervor about it, I felt it was a personal victory to me, even though I didn't know him.
Great, great. Did you, they didn't take you to the trial, or anything like that?
You don't remember, do you, actual [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ?
Tell me, did you, did you, did you happen to go to the Marian Anderson concert in the late '30s, in '39? or do you remember hearing about it?
In Washington, after she had been turned down by the D.A.R.
Yeah, right. I did not go but I remember hearing about it.
What do you remember about that?
Another little segment comes back about Marian Anderson, how the, a white women's group had denied her the right to use a concert hall in Washington, and how eventually she sang outdoors, at the Lincoln Memorial, I think it was. I'm not sure, but I think I remember that because Marian Anderson came to Baltimore, to give a concert or to sing at a church, or something.
Just a second, we have to wait till she gets out... OK.
We didn't have television at, in those days, but we had radio. I remember, Joe Louis became the popular hero of black Baltimore, and I guess black America, and when he was to fight we were there just listening avidly, cheering, no one could hear us, Get him Joe, knock him out, Joe, you can do it.
He became a symbol of decency in a nasty, nasty game, prizefighting, but he also became a sort of symbol, of how much we could do if we made up our minds to do it. I liked the names that he was given, the Brown Bomber. Oh man, I thought that was the greatest thing in the world, Bomb him, Joe, bomb him!
** Though, I'm sure I listened the one time that he was defeated, and I mean, it was almost as if the sky had fallen in, but when he came back for that second victory, it was absolutely wild. In, I remember people running out their houses—
—when Joe Louis would win a fight, just screaming and yelling, He won, he won, he won!
We just run out already?
Yes, we, we missed a part, coming out of the houses.
—on the forty feet?
No, I'm going now.
Put that other, put that other—
Fourteen minute full roll.
—that other short in? Is that what you're talking about?
No, we would need a full roll, because I'll be here—
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
I remember the absolute joy, pandemonium, that would break out in the neighborhood when Joe Louis won in a prizefight. People would run out their doors, yelling at each other, He won, he won, he knocked him out, and I was right with them, jumping up and down, He knocked him out. That was real joy, only because, not only, but because he had become such a tremendous symbol to all of us, all ages, at that time.