In a hall of justice in which the late Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. once had to fight to get the same privileges as whites, hundreds of civil rights supporters joined his friends and family members yesterday to applaud as the Court House West was renamed in his honor.
"Clarence Mitchell used the law as well as the logic underlying all just laws to fight bigotry," Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes said in one of a dozen tributes offered in memory of the Baltimore native who was the chief Washington lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for almost 40 years. Mitchell retired in 1979 and died a year ago.
The crowd included U.S. Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan. Speakers, including Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer, Maryland Sens. Charles McC. Mathias and Paul Sarbanes, NAACP executive director Benjamin L. Hooks and attorney Joseph L. Rauh, made the most of the two-hour service held in the marble halls of Baltimore's Circuit Court to tell of the commitment Mitchell had to his cause.
Tenacity and selflessness were the trademarks of Mitchell's successful fight for civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s, they said.
"He had compassion. He had understanding of people. He had the belief that one man could make a difference," Schaefer said. "He told people what was right. He told people what was wrong. And he convinced them."
Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.) remembered the early days of his brother's fight for equality, when Clarence Mitchell was a reporter for the Afro-American, a Baltimore newspaper, and could not get served in nearby restaurants or get access to courthouse records that were open to white reporters.
"I would be less than honest today if I didn't say there was some bitterness . . . that there are some scars on me because of the things that were done to my brother," Mitchell said. "He would challenge us never, ever to compromise. I would urge you on the day of dedication to make it a day of recommitment."
The Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Court House is the first courthouse in a major American city to be named for a national civil rights leader, according to city spokesmen.