The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland unanimously approved the naming of the Art-Sociology Building after the late Congressman Parren Mitchell, a distinguished alumnus of the Department of Sociology.
In 1952, Mitchell became the first African American to obtain a graduate degree from the University of Maryland, a pioneering achievement as the leadership of the University sought to exclude him from attending classes on account of his race. Mitchell successfully sued the University, with legal representation undertaken by NAACP Lead Counsel Thurgood Marshall, to attend the College Park campus.
University leadership agrees that celebrating the memory of Parren Mitchell allows us to recognize the difficulties our nation has faced in overcoming racial and social inequalities, as well as the challenges we still face to overcome less-visible barriers to graduate education for racial minorities.
“Parren Mitchell stands as an exemplar of the values this campus holds most highly—academic achievement, personal courage, diversity and the opportunity to rise on one’s merits,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “His legacy reminds us where we came from and how far we can go.”
In his youth, Parren joined his brother Clarence Mitchell Jr.— who went on to become Chief Lobbyist of the NAACP—in protesting against segregation in the city of Baltimore. In 1942, Parren Mitchell served in the Ninety-Second Infantry Division of the US Army as a commissioned officer and company commander during World War II and received a Purple Heart. After his discharge in 1946, he attended Morgan State University under the GI Bill, and he received a Bachelor’s Degree in 1950. He then applied to the graduate program in sociology at the University of Maryland.
In October 1950, the Baltimore City Court ordered UMD to accept Mitchell as a full-time student in College Park, where he faced an unwelcoming environment. Despite these challenges, he graduated in 1952 with honors. Mitchell would state later that the sociological training he received at College Park would shape his activism in politics and social change for years to come.
“Congressman Mitchell’s accomplishments brought him broad recognition but were attained while in the pursuit of the public good, and he serves as a shining example of the ideals we seek to foster as a public academic institution,” said Gregory F. Ball, Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSOS) at the University of Maryland. “This naming honors the memory of a UMD graduate who attained personal prestige while overcoming great obstacles to construct a more just and better world.”
After serving in many academic and public positions in the 1950s and 1960s, Mitchell became the first African American elected to Congress from Maryland in 1970, as well as the first African-American congressman from below the Mason-Dixon Line since 1898. Representing Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District, Congressman Mitchell was one of the 13 founding members of the Black Caucus, and became known as a staunch supporter of minority-owned businesses.
Naming the Art-Sociology Building after the late congressman helps recognize and honor Parren Mitchell’s legacy by continuing to advance greater social inclusion, both at the University of Maryland and the community at large.