Jacobs: We would first like to know a little about you as a person. Where were you born? Something about your family, brothers and sisters, and things of that sort.
Mitchell: I was born in Milford, Delaware--the son of Littleton V. Mitchell and Helen A. Mitchell. I had two sisters and a brother, and there are only two of us that are now living. My father and mother are both deceased. I lived in Milford until the 8th grade. I had to go to Howard High School to get further education.
Jacobs: Why did you have to go to Howard High School?
Mitchell: Because there was not any further education for black students in the State except at Howard High School. Or, if you had the money, you could go to Delaware State College where they had the 9th through 12th grade. Howard High School was the only high school in the state of Delaware for black students.
Jacobs: What first attracted you to a career in civil rights? Was there an individual you admired? An event(s) that made you angry?
Mitchell: I was not attracted to the civil rights--I was placed in a chapter of the NAACP at the age of 12 years of age. I was forced to go to youth meetings by my mother and, therefore, I grew up within the NAACP in a very small area of Milford. And, when I got to Wilmington, my Aunt continued me in the NAACP at the high school. The high school suggested it to me. So, I've been involved in it all my life.
Jacobs: They suggested it?
Mitchell: They would suggest it by having NAACP people come to the school and talk, not by sponsoring NAACP youth or anything like that. But, they had motivating people, black people, coming in and talking, telling you what was happening. What was not happening and telling you the problems--suggesting what we could do when we got our education.
Jacobs: Were there any events that made you angry?
Mitchell: Sure, when I went downtown in Milford. I had to say "Sir" before I could get waited on in the stores. We never got to see Santa Claus because Santa Claus went to the volunteer firehouse, and blacks weren't allowed in there. When we went to baseball games, we had to sit down beyond the third base area, sort of out in left field on the line. So there were many things. When we went to the movies, we had to sit upstairs way up there in the back of the balcony. Our whole life was made that way--to grow up angry.
Jacobs: You mentioned to me a few months ago about not addressing you as "Sir." Is there a relationship to this?
Mitchell: Yes, that's right--I hate the word "Sir." I hated it when I was in the service and I told the guys, "Don't say Sir to me. Say Sir when you see the Major and Colonel around, otherwise you just say Lieutenant to me--don't say Sir." I hate "Sir" because I would not get waited on. I went downtown in Milford--not just me, any black person. Adults had to as well. When I walked up to the counter and said, "I want one-half a pound of pork chops." The man would look at me and say, "What?" He'd look at me and I'd say, "Please." He'd say, "What else?" I'd say, "Sir, may I have a half-pound of pork chops, please?" "Sir" was the way they made us--placed us in a demeaning manner. They were above us, so we had to say "Sir." If I had the opportunity, I would do other things--break their windows and do everything else.
Jacobs: As a form of retaliation?
Mitchell: Yes. We were playing marbles--my friends and I were playing marbles one day and the Mayor of Milford . . . we were in the driveway on the ground playing marbles. The Mayor drove his car up and all of a sudden stopped right in front of us and yelled, "You niggers get out of the way." I went over, got a brick and said, "You say that again and I'll throw this through your windshield." Of course, I thought I was standing there with my boys in back of me. And I said, "I dare you to say that again. Say it again and I'll throw this right through your windshield." He didn't say anything, he said, "Get out the way." Then I said, "Just say it one more time." I just happened to look around and there was nobody back there. I remember that so very much--one of them is dead now, the other two are still alive. And he said, "Well, I said get the hell out the way." I took the brick, threw it right through his windshield and took off.
Jacobs: Did he report this?
Mitchell: If he did, I don't know anything about it because I was scared to death. I knew when I got home. This is Milford, I know this man's gonna come to my house, and I was gonna catch it. Nothing happened. He didn't do anything. His name was Prettyjohn--he had a drugstore, he was the Mayor of the town. He never forget me, though. He said to me one time, "I have never forgotten you. You threw that brick through my windshield. I guess I deserved that for what I said."
Jacobs: He said that?
Mitchell: Yes, years later. "I guess I deserved that for what I said." Then I told him, "I've never liked you since, and I don't like you today."
Jacobs: Tell me about the lady you mentioned that attracted you to the NAACP. She was a white woman?
Mitchell: Yes. She did talk with me. She was a member of the Wilmington branch, and she orchestrated what we should do and how we should do it. She was very active in that branch. The Wilmington branch was white and black together and there were white officers in the branch. I know--Buzz Ware was white--it was together. So, when we had marches for housing it was white and black in it. It wasn't just one group.
Jacobs: You said that you had different opinions.
Mitchell: We did. There were strong opinions--there were people who were dissatisfied and left, but they were individuals and not groups. Most of the people, when we made a decision, accepted it. The community accepted it.
Jacobs: You mentioned that one person said you all should leave or disband.
Mitchell: There were two--a doctor and a teacher. The teacher stood up and said, "You shouldn't do this--this is disgraceful." I didn't say anything to her--it was a woman, and I would not say anything to her. But with that doctor--I told him what was going to happen to him if he stayed there.
Jacobs: We talked about being part of a cause and feeling that you have to make sacrifices for the cause. Dr. King had mentioned in one of his speeches that if a person was not willing to die, then his life is not worth living. Did you feel that way?
Mitchell: Not to be killed. When you're the age that I was--most of us--it doesn't bother you. You don't even think about it. I knew I could be killed. I know that. I know I'd been threatened. I know that when I came home at night and did not call Jane to tell her I was at a meeting that would be over at 8 o'clock and I'd get home at 10 o'clock--she'd be angry--she'd be upset.
Jacobs: Did you ever think it's time to stop now--it's time to get out?
Mitchell: People who are stopped never had a commitment. People who stop never want to be treated equally. People who stop don't have respect for themselves. How are you going to stop doing something to get people to respect you? Leadership in the NAACP came about with that--Roy Wilkins, and others--Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Benjamin Mays, Dr. Mordecai Johnson, Dr. James Nabritt, Spotswood Robinson, Jack Greenberg, Louis L. Redding--not to mention my teachers in high school. Not to mention my mother. They didn't say stop.
Jacobs: You didn't worry about not getting a promotion?
Mitchell: I didn't have an agenda that I was looking for a job. I remember one time a guy down here took a gun out and pulled it twice in my belly--but it didn't go off.
Jacobs: This was an altercation about what?
Mitchell: It wasn't an altercation. I saw a pheasant about four or five miles down there. I thought I'd bring the pheasant back for the kids. I locked my car. A few minutes later I saw this man around my car. I said, "Hey, what are you doing?" He said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "None of your damn business what I'm doing here. You get away from my car." He looked at me and said, "You're that Mitchell with the big mouth. Somebody needs to close your mouth." Pulled a gun out and clicked it twice, but it didn't go off. I knocked it out of his hand and kicked him in his private parts.
Jacobs: This is totally contradictory to the non-violence that Dr. King . . .
Mitchell: You never heard me say I wasn't violent. I've never said I was non- violent.
Jacobs: You are saying you were fighting for equality for everything?
Mitchell: Everything--going into the toilets, going into everything--migrant labor--movies, everything. Eating--couldn't buy a house--everything.
Jacobs: Why couldn't you buy a house?
Mitchell: They wouldn't sell you a house where you wanted to buy it--even if you had no debts and could afford to. You could not go to get the money for a loan. Let me tell you something. You ever heard of redlining? Redlining is when you couldn't live outside a certain district. And, real estate dealers were the ones that were doing it. When you look at real estate, real estate dealers selected where blacks were going to live.
Jacobs: What was the attitude of the white business and religious community to your struggles? Did you have white supporters? Detractors?
Mitchell: Yes, we had white supporters. Now that wasn't (the) white community. It was individual whites. Wasn't white businesses, wasn't DuPont. You know what DuPont did one time? DuPont's offered to sponsor our budget for $28,000. Our budget was $28,000. They were going to give us our budget for that year. But DuPont wouldn't hire a Dr. Davis, who had a Ph.D. in chemistry--in the laboratory. And, we said if we take their money we're obligated to them and they know it. There are two things they'll do--they'll get us in a pigeon-hole where we get their money and get obligated and because of that won't criticize them. We didn't take the money.
Jacobs: When you were picketing, you had a couple of detractors. Were they coming from all different walks within the black community?
Mitchell: No, let me tell you. Detractors, for the most part, were educated blacks, like the doctor and the teacher I mentioned. A doctor and a teacher. We had educated blacks who were satisfied, they were afraid. "If they don't want us to go in their place, we shouldn't go there," they would say. There were others like this man I told you about, who was an educated man. He was not stupid. There were people who didn't want to push it. Anybody who said I want to be treated like everyone else is pushing it. People are still pushing it.
Jacobs: Your leadership came through what segment of black America?
Mitchell: All segments--they weren't all college graduates, some weren't even high school graduates that were involved with us. They worked in a myriad of places. They worked in the steel mill, there were women who worked day-work--it was a myriad of people together doing the job.
Jacobs: So you didn't have class antagonism then?
Mitchell: No, there wasn't any class antagonism. I take it back, yes, there has always been class antagonism. There was a time when Howard University only wanted people that were lighter than me. There was a time when people who were light were given a preference. I wasn't one of them, but people thought I was good-looking enough to be one. We've had thatÛwe've had people in the state who wanted to be Indians, people who wanted to be Moors. Yes, it's there but it never interfered with our NAACP. It didn't come in a mix and say--"Oh, he's this color, that color, class, he's a college professor, he's a president of a church." No, that didn't come in. That comes after.
Jacobs: Just to clarify, you said something about the Moors in the state of Delaware. What do you mean by the Moors?
Mitchell: The Moors are a group of people that live down in Cheswold. There was a piece in the paper about them just last week. They lived in Cheswold, and they considered themselves Moors. So, they weren't Negroes--they were really light, fair hair (some of them). The Nanticokes lived down in Millsboro. When they were Nanticokes, they had an Indian school, down there in Millsboro, that went to the 7th grade. After 7th grade where did they go? They couldn't go to a white school because the white school wouldn't accept them. There was only one place to go--Delaware State College. After they went to Delaware State College what happened? They got integrated. There's still a group of Indians there. I knew one who was a Chief called George Clark--he was a mortician then. His son now, I think, is the Chief of the Nanticokes there.
Jacobs: What was the attitude of the local media to your organization?
Mitchell: They printed what we were doing. However, the newspaper was controlled by Christiana Securities. Christiana Securities was a DuPont Company. I didn't know what kind of control they had until I tried to get into the newspaper. There was a DuPont in the legislature, and he and two downstate men wanted to put in a law that said any female with more than two children should be sterilized--and that was wrong. They wanted it to effect those on welfare. I called Clarence Mitchell who was our Washington Representative in the 102nd Senate and said, "I want you to look up this DuPont." The other one was Donald Isaac, and the other was George Robbins of Milford. He looked up and found all three of them were getting subsidies from the government for not planting potatoes--for not planting something. And I found that out--got it secretly from Clarence Mitchell. So, I took it to the newspapers, but they would not print it. Ask Norm Lockman about it. Norm Lockman was an intern there. And the one who came here to my home to find out about it was Jay Harris. Jay Harris is now the editor of a newspaper out in California. Jay Harris wrote it up. He said, "Litt, have you got the evidence." I said, "Here it is." Gave him a copy of it--they would not let him print it in the newspaper. Donald Isley, George Robbins, and I forget which DuPont it was. So you see, the media did have control because it was a particular family--Republicans. Now anything that was derogatory about Republicans you didn't get in that newspaper.
Jacobs: Did you get sympathetic coverage?
Mitchell: One of my friends--I mean close friends--was Bill Frank. Bill Frank was a columnist and a reporter. And, he would go with me and write up on it. And what he wrote was accurate. I knew other reporters who were there, but Bill Frank was really my support. I'd call up, tell him where I was going--he'd go with me.
Jacobs: What input did national events (boycotts, sit-ins, Martin Luther King, etc.) have on local activities? Did national actions increase tensions?
Mitchell: Yes, we did both. It had an effect upon us because we would react with it--if there was a boycott. We had a boycott right here. Nationally, Woolworth's was boycotted. We boycotted Woolworth's. People were not always sympathetic with us, but they were in other areas. I was skiing up in Vermont. Went to the Five & Ten in Vermont, looked out and there was a bunch of girls picketing--DON'T EAT IN WOOLWORTH'S--THEY DO NOT SERVE NEGROES. They were all white from Bennington College. I was astounded. Saturday morning and I went up there and I said, "Are you all doing this? If you're going to do it, can I walk around with you?" They said, "Yes." I'm up in Bennington, Vermont on this main street that's got this Woolworth store. I had on my ski pants because I was going skiing, and I got in the line and marched around with them for about 15 minutes. It was happening all over, not just here, but all over.
Jacobs: Did you keep in contact with people in other states? Did you have some sort of communication system set up?
Mitchell: We had a system--the State Conference president of New Jersey, State Conference president of Pennsylvania, State Conference president of New York--we all knew each other. We said we were going to boycott certain areas in the state--New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York--were going to come down in busses. The business people got afraid and said no. We said we're not responsible for what people do when they come here. That was open invitation saying you might have your business tore up.
Jacobs: So you kind of used that as leverage?
Mitchell: Oh, yes indeed. We used everything we could get as leverage. Yes, we worked together in those states, especially New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It was called the Tri-State.
Jacobs: Was there a relationship between the civil rights organizations and the student population--high school and college?
Mitchell: Not in Delaware, there weren't very many college students, except at Delaware State College. And the President of Delaware State College did not want the NAACP on campus. He told me that because we wanted a chapter at Delaware State. Wes Hopkins' son was going to be the president, and I talked to Dr. Mishoe. He said we would like to have a chapter but take it off campus. He told me that.
Jacobs: Was the NAACP affiliated with other colleges in other states?
Mitchell: Yes. You take down South, they were really affiliated. That's where it started. They were affiliated in the South--always have been. They weren't always affiliated in the North. But when we had students hold a sit-in at the Hollywood Diner in Dover, Mishoe was going to kick them out of Delaware State College if it hadn't been for Louis L. Redding. It was black and white that sit-in from Delaware State. We had white teachers down there who had joined the students.
Jacobs: Why did the president take this position?
Mitchell: He didn't want to upset the white people who were giving him money for the school. That's my interpretation of it. His donors were upset because of my attitude, because I wouldn't take . . . I wouldn't bend and say "okay, let's do this." Like half a loaf of bread is better than none at all. Not when you're talking about equality, not when your talking about democracy, not when you're talking about self-respect--not half a loaf of bread is better than none at all--I'm going to get it all, or I'm not going to get none.
Jacobs: What was the relationship between the civil rights organizations and the University of Delaware?
Mitchell: The University of Delaware was not going to have the NAACP there either. In fact, I was barred from the University of Delaware. I was barred from speaking at the University of Delaware. Dr. Perkins was president. I used to go over with several of the professors to speak at their psychology classes and their sociology classes--especially a Dr. Lincoln. Dr. Lincoln called me one time and said, "Litt, I've got good news and bad news, I'm gonna give you the bad news first. The bad news is Dr. Perkins said you cannot be permitted to speak on campus at the University of Delaware." And I said, "For what?" He said he didn't say why. "The good news--neither can Ted Kennedy, neither can Mark Hatfield, neither can Julian Bond--you're in good company." I said, "Would you all let that be known--put it in the newspaper so that I can be identified with those guys." There were a number of incidents happening over there. Football players, white and black, they wouldn't let them stay together. An African girl came to the University and some of the white daughters of the white family that brought her over were not allowed to room with her. She was in a room for three by herself.
Jacobs: Did the students have concerns that were different from civil rights leaders?
Mitchell: Remember there were very few students (black) at the University of Delaware. Students at Delaware State had already done a sit-in. There were not a lot of them doing it, but the feeling was there. University of Delaware had very few, if any, who could or would. They were so few they couldn't do anything.
Jacobs: With these students at Delaware State, did you have any kind of generation gap?
Mitchell: No. Everything was happening--people were sitting-in, people were marching--so they would do what they could. Many times the man down there didn't want them to do things--they were risking getting put out of school for it.
Jacobs: Did some people see you as militant?
Mitchell: I would have no disagreement with that. You're militant any time you go against the establishment. All right then, I'm militant. I've even been called a Communist before.
Jacobs: You've been called a Communist?
Mitchell: Yes, a rebel-rouser. Also been told I don't do nothing for black people. It's happened.
Jacobs: What does it do to your social stock when someone labels you a rebel- rouser?
Mitchell: Delaware State labeled me a rebel-rouser because I said if Delaware State can't be accredited, then we need to put Delaware State with the University of Delaware--then we'll get accredited. That wasn't well received because nepotism was running rampant around Delaware State. That was in 1975--those people didn't want anything to do with me. There are people still down there that hardly speak to me because of that.
Jacobs: The students used sit-ins, did you have the same tactics?
Mitchell: These kids went into Hollywood Diner--the Hollywood Diner down there didn't want to serve you, though the one in Wilmington would. Down there they wouldn't serve you--they had them arrested. They found Dr. Mishoe was going to throw them out of school. We made sure that he didn't.
Jacobs: So you all had pretty good communications with the students?
Mitchell: The students that were involved.
Jacobs: Did you know when they were going to boycott?
Mitchell: Yes, we had people all lined up to arrange bail. But, they didn't put them on bail. They let them out on their own recognizance. Always had people lined up to arrange bail in case anything went wrong.
Jacobs: What role did politicians play in the civil rights years? Were they sympathetic or hostile? Was there a difference between Republicans and Democrats?
Mitchell: Politicians were sympathetic--Republicans and Democrats. They were both sympathetic. We had people down in the legislature that worked with us. We had one guy who was a Republican down in the legislature and he and I had a heck of a rapport. See, we lived off the beaten trail, Route 13 was it, Route 9 was country then in the 50s and 60s. In the 60s I was State President. He'd come up to me and say, "Litt Mitchell, I can't get that caucus to do such and such a thing. We've got to do something." I'd say, "Okay, how about I call the newspaper." I could call up the newspapers and get anything. "Ray, I'm calling the paper, telling them you're not doing anybody any good. That'll get their attention. We're going to suggest that you not cooperate with the caucus." Then I'd criticize him in the paper. I'd get all kinds of comments--"What are you criticizing Ray Evans for, he's the only crack we've got down there." They didn't know what Ray and I were doing. Ray would go back in the caucus and say, "Look what you've done to me, look what you're doing to me. This man (Litt) isn't going to get me elected. You better come on and let me get my stuff." Ray would use that thing and go back and get the stuff done. He and I never told anyone about it. Ray Evans and I worked that to a tee. The lady that was Executive Director of Human Relations--LaJuan Pitts--we worked that kind of thing too. I'd call her Aunt Hattie--"You ain't nothing but an old Uncle Tom . . . ." Ray and I'd get together and laugh about that. Nobody, not even my family, knew what we were doing.
Jacobs: How did you establish this relationship with Ray?
Mitchell: We knew each other just by working in the NAACP. He was in the NAACP, he worked with us. He had an alcohol beverage store, and he donated to the NAACP. He was very sympathetic and worked with us. But, he was Republican, and he was one of the few down there. We did have some others down there who didn't work with us too well. They worked with us but only up to a certain point because they were under the control of the bosses. There was Dolan, who was the Democratic boss, and he didn't want blacks doing anything unless he said so. Generally, they were good to us.
Jacobs: How did you establish a relationship with Bill Frank?
Mitchell: Bill Frank wrote that I was complaining about the migrant laborers and how they were treated. Bill Frank wrote an article saying I didn't know what I was talking about, so I called him up. I said, "Put your money where your mouth is. Get down here and go with me. You go with me and let's see what you find." He went with me. From that time on Bill Frank and I were close as anybody could possibly be. Anything I wrote and asked him to write about he wrote. He always wrote positive--everyone of them. There's another reporter. I made a statement that a certain governor made a racist decision. He asked me why I called the governor racist. I said, "The thing you don't do is read what I say--don't read what you think I said." He said, "Can I come down and talk with you?" I said that you can be the nicest person in the world, but you can make a racist decision. "You're right Litt, I didn't read what you said." The problem is I know what I'm saying, and I say it in a way that I know and mean. You take it another way and, therefore, you've adopted something I didn't say. One thing about the media--I've always tried to be factual, truthful and always had something that was going to happen to someone else--not to me. It was about people.
Jacobs: What were the most important events that happened in Delaware?
Mitchell: I can't delineate--there's so many of them. University of Delaware, 1954 decision, where we had a riot in Milford--all of this.
Jacobs: In 1954 you had a riot in Milford?
Mitchell: Sure. Milford, Delaware had riots because they integrated the schools there. That is the only place in the country that had riots because of the 1954 decision. The Î54 decision was getting off in May. In September, there were riots in Milford because they integrated that fast. My mother had a shotgun behind her door. Kids in cars would come up in the black neighborhood and throw bottles at doors, in windows. That was it. I heard a man at the University of Delaware say Delaware was integrated without problems. Where was he? Where did he get his information? They had the biggest riot in Milford you could think of.
Jacobs: Was the 1954 decision considered the beginning of the civil rights years?
Mitchell: No--so many people demanded civil rights over the years. It started long before 1954.
Jacobs: What about the court decision involving the University of Delaware? Were there sit-ins and demonstrations?
Mitchell: No. Louis L. Redding went to court and got that done. There were no sit-ins or demonstrations--and nobody paid him. He got no money for it. He did it on his own.
Jacobs: What do you see as the great achievements of the civil rights years?
Mitchell: Getting equality in all facets of our society--public accommodations, housing, living where you want to--all those things. Also riding anywhere you want on a bus or train. Being able to get some jobs.
Mitchell: Yes--Of blacks to really get prepared to go in and take the jobs. Young blacks getting prepared so that when the doors open, they can run in. Youth are not getting involved like we would like them to be--to take over. We need a continuum. Not necessarily doing exactly what we did, but making sure it continues. That is not happening. We did not insist that the youth learn and become involved in what we are doing. We have no youth groups in the State now. Where is the leadership going to come from?
Jacobs: Who are the heroes? Are there Delawareans like Rosa Parks?
Mitchell: Yes, Louis L. Redding. Every single person in Delaware ought to know about him. Every child. Not just black, not just white. They should know that every time they are in school, sit in a restaurant, are at a hotel--it is because of Louis Redding. He got no money. Used his own. He beat five Georgetown lawyers who picked up $500,000 to represent the State to preserve segregation. Louis Redding picked up nothing.
Jacobs: What's left?
Mitchell: We must develop leadership that will be astute and attentive to the needs of the people in the State. The needs are a little bit different now, but they are in some ways the same. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Prejudice is still here--it is just more subtle.
Jacob: What, if anything, can students do to make things better?
Mitchell: Three things. Look at the way folks are treated. Be sensitive to the way people treat and respect you. And listen to those who have come before.
Jacobs: Thank you, Mr. Mitchell.
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Last Updated: June 27, 1997
Last Updated: June 27, 1997