In Memoriam

Parren J. Mitchell (1922-2007)

Parren J. Mitchell, Maryland’s first black congressman and a former college professor, died from complications from pneumonia late last month at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 85 years old.

Parren Mitchell was a native of Baltimore. A graduate of the city’s segregated Frederick Douglass High School, he joined the U.S. Army in 1940 and was wounded in Italy during World War II. Returning home in 1946, Mitchell earned a bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland.

After serving in local government, in 1965 Mitchell was appointed professor of sociology at Morgan State University. He was also assistant director of the university’s Urban Affairs Institute.

In 1970 Mitchell became the first black person elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland. He was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Mitchell served eight terms in the House rising to chair the Committee on Small Business. There he was the author of legislation calling for a fixed percentage of government contracts to be set aside for minority-owned firms. He retired from Congress in 1986.

In 1996 the Parren J. Mitchell Foundation for Education and Talent Development was formed. The foundation provides two-year, $25,000 scholarships as well as mentoring opportunities for students at historically black colleges and universities who are interested in entrepreneurship.

Betty Williams (1934-2007)

Betty Williams, a career educator who was the first black woman to serve on the board of trustees of the body overseeing public higher education in Mississippi, died late last month at a hospital in Columbus, Mississippi. She was 73 years old.

Williams was a graduate of Jackson State University and held a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis. She served as a public elementary school principal for 20 years in Columbus. In 1976 she was appointed to the board of trustees of Mississippi’s State Institutions of Higher Learning, which oversees the operations of eight public universities, including three historically black institutions. She served on the board for 12 years including one year as president.