Editor’s note: Connie Mitchell will Lie in State on Thursday and Friday (December 20 and 21) 4-7PM at St. Monica’s Church, 831 Genesee St. Mass of Christian Burial Saturday (December 22) 10AM at the Church. Interment Holy Sepulchre.
By staff –
Constance “Connie” Mitchell, a Rochester legend, civil rights leader and the first African American woman to serve on the Monroe County Legislature, has died.
Mitchell passed earlier this morning at Highland Hospital. She was 90 years old.
Mitchell’s death comes after her husband of 63 years, U.S. Air Force Veteran John Mitchell who passed away July 3, 2013.
Mitchell was born in New Rochelle, NY on May 19, 1928 and moved to Rochester in 1950, the year she and John married.
She has a long history of community service and activism. During her early years in Rochester she worked at Baden Street Settlement with a civic group called the Delta Ressics, going out to migrant camps on Saturdays and tutoring children.
She later joined a civil rights group called the Non-Partisan Political League working on voter registrations, housing issues and taking petitions to city council meetings. At the urging of her friends Research Scientist Dr. Walt Cooper and Dick Wade, a professor at the U of R she would run and win a position as Supervisor of the Third Ward (now Corn Hill) area where she lived.
In 1959 Mitchell ran as a Democrat for a position on the Monroe County Board of Supervisors—now called the Monroe County Legislature—and lost her bid by 316 votes. She turned that loss around during the next election with a 125 vote victory in 1961 to become the first African American Woman on the Monroe County Legislature and hold the highest public office of any African American woman in the country at the time.
Mitchell and husband John started the Action for a Better Community organization (ABC) in the 1960’s.
Mitchell was a civil rights activist. She went to Selma, Alabama to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and hundreds of activists to protest injustice.—On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma.
Mitchell was known and loved both locally and nationally. Her home on Greig Street in Corn Hill was not only a meeting place for community activism but she hosted some major figures like Malcolm X, Dick Gregory and Robert F. Kennedy.
She hosted a radio show, “Connie’s Comments” on WDKX-FM during the 1970’s and worked for the Montgomery Neighborhood Center as neighborhood development director. She was also director of the PRISM program—Program for Rochester to Interest Students—from 1978 to 1989.
In 2017, Mitchell was presented with the Frederick Douglass Medal for outstanding civic engagement.
Mitchell’s only child, Constance Mitchell-Jefferson, has continued in her mother’s legacy of community service. Mitchell-Jefferson works for the City of Rochester as the minority and women business enterprise office.
“Like Frederick Douglass, Connie Mitchell dedicated her life to the pursuit of racial justice in Rochester, and did not stop until prejudicial barriers crumbled,” UofR President Joel Seligman wrote about her last year. “She keenly realized very early on that building a better future for Rochester’s underserved populations began with access to education. Throughout her lifetime, she created and led many programs to boost and support children and families in a pursuit of a better life. She is a true pioneer.
“Constance Mitchell was one of my personal heroes and role models in the fight to bring civil rights and social justice to the city of Rochester. She continued to give back to this community in many ways and she remained a source of strength and support for my family and me late into her life,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said. “I am a living example of the fact that she continued to lift as she climbed. I encourage all of Rochester’s citizens to take a moment today to offer a prayer of gratitude for the life of Connie Mitchell. We can never forget those whose shoulders we stand upon. We can never forget those whose sacrifice made our own achievements possible.”