Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Oscar De Priest vs The Railroad Companies - Black Republican History
By ANDREW GLASS
On this day in 1941, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that under the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act, African-Americans were entitled to equal passenger accommodations on the nation’s railroads. Rep. Arthur Mitchell of Illinois (1883-1968), the first black member of Congress to be elected as a Democrat, co-argued his own suit before the high tribunal.
In 1937, while traveling from Chicago to Hot Springs, Ark., an Illinois Central conductor ordered Mitchell to vacate his first-class air-conditioned Pullman sleeper compartment shortly after the train left Memphis, Tenn., and to move to a second-class segregated car for the remainder of his trip, which continued on the Rock Island line.
Mitchell, a lawyer who had taken his seat in the House in 1935 after defeating Rep. Oscar De Priest, a black Republican, sued both railroads for racial discrimination. After the Interstate Commerce Commission and the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois dismissed his suit, Mitchell appealed to the Supreme Court. He subsequently described his legal victory there as a “step in the destruction of Mr. Jim Crow himself.”
The decision to compel Mitchell to move, the high court found, “was manifestly a discrimination against him in the course of his interstate journey ... solely [because] he was a Negro.”
Mitchell was born in 1883 near Lafayette, Ala. He left home at 14 to attend Tuskegee Institute. He worked on a farm and as an assistant to Booker T. Washington while at the college. Mitchell also attended Columbia University before qualifying for the bar. He moved to Chicago and entered politics there as a Republican but later switched to the Democratic Party because he thought it better represented his views.
In 1942, Mitchell chose not to seek reelection and moved to Virginia, where he lived on a 12-acre farm until his death in 1968.
Source: Historian, Clerk of the U.S. House
Posted by Blog Moderator at Tuesday, April 28, 2009