In a time flooded with racial discrimination and prejudice, many campuses across the country have exemplified different forms of activism and protest with the intention of bringing equality and justice to the black community.
The University of Maryland is no exception.
In the presence of alumni, faculty, students, community members and members of the Mitchell family, university president Wallace Loh alongside Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Gregory Ball and Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Robert Caret amongst others, dedicated the University of Maryland’s Art and Sociology building to the late Congressman and university alumnus Parren J. Mitchell Thursday.
Mitchell, like the majority of African Americans in the country during the 1950s, had undergone great discrimination in American society, and after having been denied admittance to this university due to his race, proceeded to sue with the help of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, exemplifying courageous bravery and activism during an era where racism dominated the zeitgeist.
His dedication and persistence to civil rights ultimately gained him admittance to the College Park campus, paving the way for integration for not only the University of Maryland, but the state of Maryland and beyond.
In 1952, Mitchell became the first African American student to exceed the university’s graduate school with honors and a masters degree in sociology and went on to serve as the first African American congressman of Maryland in 1970, as well as being one of the 13 founders of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Mitchell is remembered for his courage in not only civil rights, but also civic duty, having earned a purple heart in World War II for his time in Italy, as well serving as a relatable role model for black youth in his community as congressman.
As President Loh stated in his speech, “To be first, you have to be fearless, and Parren J. Mitchell was a first. The name of Congressman Mitchell—his signature— is on this university. But today, this university is honored to have his name and his signature on the brick front of the Art and Sociology building. We are truly blessed and honored to have an incredible visionary leader who now stands as a symbol and an inspiration for the next generations of students to come to the University of Maryland.”
In his remarks, Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Gregory Ball, acknowledged that although we at this university must recognize all that Mitchell overcame, we can’t forget that “some of these obstacles came from this university,” and in his speech, pledged to “have learned from and continue to learn from these obstacles” and that in Mitchell’s honor, will take the initiate to “make our university and our communities better, more inclusive, more diverse, more welcoming and more accessible.”
In his exceptional speech delivered at the ceremony, senior sociology major Rhys Hall reflected on the impact that Congressman Mitchell has on his life as an African American student at this university, and urged others to also recognize his legacy.
“We are all bestowed with power. How you use it is what comes to define you,” Hall began. “Power is nothing if it allows itself to end once your individual goal is achieved. As I aspire to commit further education towards the enlightenment and liberation of my community from the persistent effects of systemic racism and inequality, I can only wonder ‘Where would I be if Parren Mitchell hadn’t refused to be powerless in the face of oppression?’”
In concluding, Hall encouraged all of those who enter the newly dedicated Parrren J. Mitchell Art and Sociology Building to remember the man whose legacy is imprinted on the bricks, and to consider what they will do with the power he bestowed to them in Maryland and beyond.
The audience responded with a standing ovation.
The spirit of Mitchell’s activism was exemplified at the dedication as well, as a group of students attending the event protested the university’s lack of initiative of renaming Byrd Stadium, a campus icon dedicated to previous university president Curley Byrd, a proclaimed racist and enemy to Mitchell as well as the entirety of the black community in the 1950s.
Senior sociology major and protest leader, Colin Byrd’s discontent is rooted in the notion that the dedication of the Art and Sociology building to Congressman Mitchell is not a compromise for the naming of Byrd stadium, nor is it a compromise for the lack of representation that blacks and other minorities receive economically on and off campus.
“For years and years and years, there have been calls for this building to be named after [Congressman Mitchell], and it wasn’t until more recently when we started raising the issue of renaming the stadium that they saw this as some sort of compromise. We’re not interested in compromise, we’re interested in people that are seriously interested in progress,” Byrd said.
“I think that this event was excellent. It’s clear that the passion for civil rights runs very deep in the Mitchell family. All of the family members spoke so eloquently. And so it was a pleasure and an honor to be in the presence of all of these individuals and to have them speak so highly of things that we’re doing on campus, and so highly of Congressman Parren Mitchell,” continued Byrd.
“At the same time we honor his legacy, let us not desecrate it by rejecting minority owned businesses, let us not desecrate it by not paying student athletes—the majority of whom in the profitable sport programs are African American. And let us not desecrate it by having his largest enemy continue being enshrined in this stadium.”
Feature Photo Credit: Parren Mitchell receiving a Maryland House of Delegates citation from the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and House Speaker Ben Cardin on the occasion of his retirement. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.