About the Project

The Papers of Clarence Mitchell Jr. is a nine-volume historical documentary edition of the NAACP Washington Bureau historical papers that were prepared by the Baltimore, Maryland, native during his struggle for the passage of civil rights laws. The publications begin with the weekly, monthly, and annual reports Mitchell prepared when he was associate director of the Fair Employment Practice Committee, the agency created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 to end discrimination in the national defense industry. Creation of the FEPC marked the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. The papers are thus another indispensable source for studying the revolutionary evolution of America’s social history and constitutional system of government in the modern period.

The NAACP Washington Bureau papers, along with the NAACP’s legal and general collections, are reposited at the Library of Congress. The Papers of Clarence Mitchell Jr. is the only comprehensive resource available for studying the political forces that were marshalled to win passage of the civil rights laws. The key political elements in Mitchell’s arsenal were the NAACP nationwide branch network and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the coalition of civil rights, civic, labor, fraternal and religious organizations the Association created as its political fulcrum in Washington.

Except for the first two volumes, which comprise the FEPC period, the reports are one of the six categories of the NAACP Washington Bureau papers prepared by Mitchell when he was NAACP labor secretary from 1946 to 1950 and then director of the bureau until 1978. The others -- congressional testimonies and statements, letters and telegrams, memoranda, speeches, scholarly articles and newspaper columns – are used in the headnotes and annotation of the reports. The World War II period of the NAACP Washington Bureau collection (1942-1946), and that immediately following (1946-1950) show the social forces that pushed the NAACP to establish a formal political and legislative program to complement its legal program with the creation of the Washington Bureau, which it did in 1942, for consolidating and expanding this work in Congress and the Executive Branch. In sum, The Papers of Clarence Mitchell Jr. encompasses the principal political phase of the modern civil rights movement, when, in conjunction with its legal program, the NAACP was acknowledged as the flagship of the movement.

The documentary editing project is sponsored by SUNY College at Old Westbury and funded by, in addition to the NHPRC, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

The Papers of Clarence Mitchell Jr. document the contributions of eight presidents to the establishment and enforcement of a national civil rights program. They provide the foundation for assessing the contributions to the civil rights struggle of the armed services, the justice department and other federal agencies during their administrations. The papers document how “Desegregation by Presidential Order” was achieved (June 29, 1954 report). They show how Mitchell developed the evolutionary strategy in Congress for winning passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first such measure in 82 years, the 1960 Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and the adoption of constructive national policies for enforcing those laws.

The edition dramatizes the sharp differences in strategies between the NAACP, which worked inside the government, and the younger organizations, which worked outside the government, both through their respective strategies to end second class citizenship and racial oppression of African Americans. Along with the NAACP’s legal and general collections, the Washington Bureau collection shows the extent to which the organization’s leaders, notably Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Thurgood Marshall, and Mitchell were constitutional humanists, while the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the other younger leaders utilizing nonviolent tactics in the South were moral humanists. The Papers of Clarence Mitchell Jr. thus enhances understanding of the comprehensive elements of the struggle that were essential to move the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government to achieve the modern civil rights revolution through passage of the related laws and adoption of constructive national policies. Mitchell regarded getting the Legislative and Executive Branches to join the Judicial Branch in establishing these policies as his most important contribution to the struggle.

Washington is not just about the Congress. It is also the numerous executive agencies of government that administer laws affecting our daily lives. In the Capital, the NAACP is a David operating against a great many strongly supported, loud-talking Goliaths. We never forget, however, that the original David won.
Mitchell’s NAACP Annual Report, 12/21/1950