At age 22, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. Three years later, he became a state senator. Even then, his passion for justice and for his community was evident in his leadership, his penchant for service and in the legislative choices he championed.
“For too many years we have been content to sit back and bellyache about bad politics and do nothing,” Clarence Mitchell III said when he won his first political victory in 1962. “The only way for us to be sure that we get fair representation is to represent ourselves.”
Most of the people who know of his work believe that the former senator, affectionately known as “The Bear,” did exactly that in addition to serving as a mentor and advocate.
The death of Mitchell, 72, also affectionately known as “C3,” on Oct. 11 after a battle with cancer, left the city in mourning. It was on social media that his nephew, Del. Keiffer Mitchell (D-District 44), made the announcement.
“Last night, my uncle, Clarence Mitchell III, passed,” he wrote on Twitter. “While I’m saddened, he was relieved of a lot of pain and he is in a much better place.”
Many rushed to share their own sense of loss.
“Another soldier gone to glory,” wrote Michael Hunt on Facebook.
Shawon Reed posted on Mitchell’s Facebook page advice that he had once given her. “Being a public servant is what is owed to be on this earth. Being a public servant is not only defined by being in political office, but by what you do in the community.”
The state’s political leaders also expressed sorrow at his passing. In a statement mailed to media outlets, Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) said Mitchell understood “there is far more that unites us than divides and that as public servants, it is our responsibility to advance the greater good.”
“Sen. Mitchell not only helped forge a path for so many lawmakers and public officials who came after him,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown in a statement, “but by championing civil rights legislation, helped ensure all Marylanders could enjoy equal rights under the law.”
Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, acknowledging a mutual respect between himself and the former senator, referred to him as a “political gladiator” whose charisma dominated his opponents and endeared him to his constituents and friends.
“He recognized that you never back down from what you believe in,” Mfume said. “When you were in a fight with Clarence, you knew you were going to either survive or get knocked out. No matter the outcome, you always respected him.”
Mitchell was a member of a political dynasty that was known in Baltimore as the “Black Kennedys.” His ties to politics were forged through his father, Clarence Jr., known as the “101st Senator” because of the extensive time he spent in the nation’s capital, lobbying Congress tirelessly on behalf of African Americans and representing the NAACP. C3’s mother, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, was the first African-American woman to practice law in Maryland, forging a reputation for battling civil rights cases in the courtroom. His maternal grandmother, Lillie M. Jackson, revitalized the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, which she led for 35 years and organized other branches throughout the state. His uncle, Parren, the first African-American elected to Congress from Maryland, expanded his reach into the boardroom and advocated for the nurture and inclusion of minority business, even after leaving Congress.
He followed the family tradition of service throughout his career.
“Sen. Mitchell was a fearless trailblazer who exhibited strength and courage in the face of adversity and continued his family’s rich tradition of civil rights advocacy with distinction,” said the Rev. Cortly “CD” Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). “In his absence, we must follow the example of his warrior spirit and recommit ourselves to the noble mission of freedom, justice and equality for people.”
Mfume said he will miss the senator’s “rugged individuality, his resourcefulness and his distinctive character. He was in the truest sense, an American original.”
Services begin with the family hour at 3 p.m., Oct. 21 at Sharp Street United Methodist Church, Dolphin and Etting Streets. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity service follows at 3:45 with the final memorial service at 4 p.m. A repast will follow at New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe St. in Baltimore.
The Mitchell Family has indicated that the Senator Clarence M. Mitchell, III Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund has been established at Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland.
In lieu of flowers, the Mitchell Family requests that donations be sent the scholarship fund. Checks should be made payable to: the Morgan State University Foundation And on the "For" line in lower left corner of the check indicate: Senator Clarence M. Mitchell, III Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund.