“I guess I wanted to become a Page. The fact that it was history-making didn’t really affect me. Because you don’t feel or sense history while it’s being made. You’re just going through the motions of living your life. I mean, and the perspective of what I did and when I did it is really only something I’ve thought about from a deep historical context in the last few years. I mean, it was five weeks after the Edmund Pettus Bridge incident in Selma, Alabama. That’s—I mean, again, why my mother let me go or how my mother let me go is incredible to me.”
— Frank Mitchell, August 6, 2008
Amid much fanfare, including a formal introduction by then-House Minority Leader and future President Gerald Ford, Frank Mitchell became the first African-American Page to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 20th century. Mitchell recalled the warm welcome from House Leaders, Members, and Pages in an era rife with discrimination, and experienced no racial prejudice during his tenure in the House. Mitchell’s recollections—many of which focus on his service as a phone Page in the Republican Cloakroom—range from learning relaxation techniques from Congresswoman Frances Bolton of Ohio to attending heated floor debates before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Like many former Pages, Mitchell believed the opportunity to serve as a Page was a powerful determinant of his success in adulthood.
Frank Mitchell was born on July 18, 1949, in Detroit, Michigan, to Frank Weldon, a Detroit water department employee, and Norma Bush Mitchell, a hospital aide. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, Doris and Henry Van Buren, in Springfield, Illinois, where he attended Iles Elementary School and George Washington Junior High School before enrolling in Feithans High School. While a sophomore, Mitchell, along with four other students from his high school, was selected as a candidate to become the first African-American Page to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 20th century. With the consent of then-Minority Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan, Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois ultimately chose Mitchell for the historic assignment.
Occurring just weeks after state troopers savagely beat peaceful protestors marching for voting rights, in Selma, Alabama, Mitchell’s appointment received national attention and press coverage. Fifteen-year-old Mitchell began his term on April 14, 1965—the centennial of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. As a phone Page, Mitchell answered calls in the Republican Cloakroom and took messages for Members, while witnessing many historic moments in the civil rights movement, including the floor debates for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
After serving as a Page, Mitchell returned to high school in Springfield, Illinois, where he was student council president his senior year. Upon graduation he attended several postsecondary schools, including Western Illinois University, Springfield College (Illinois), and Lincoln Land Community College. From 1970 to 1972, Mitchell worked at the Illinois State Register (Springfield), starting in the newsroom and eventually becoming a reporter. He then took a job at WCCO-TV (Minneapolis, Minnesota), where he worked as a broadcaster and weekend anchor until 1977. Mitchell also worked for BET, INN cable news, and the Omaha Star.
Later employed as a writer and an editor for Northwestern Bell/US West, as deputy director of communication for the Illinois attorney general’s office, and as a media relations manager for Ameritech, Mitchell also started his own public relations firm and served as the executive director for Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit organization. Currently a resident of Springfield, Illinois, Mitchell owns and directs a media consulting firm.
Congresswoman Frances Bolton of Ohio
Recollections of Pages interacting with Congresswoman Frances Bolton of Ohio.
Memories of Historic Legislation
Civil Rights legislation and reflections on breaking racial barriers in the House of Representatives.
Minority Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan
Personal memories of Minority Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan.
Treatment as a Page and Speaker John McCormack of Massachusetts
Account of meeting Speaker John McCormack of Massachusetts on the Speaker’s Rostrum.
Reflection of the significance of being the first African-American House Page to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 20th century.
Historical perspective of being the first African-American House Page to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 20th century.
Memories of the press attention received for the honor of being named the first African-American Page for the U.S. House.
About this object
About this object