Historical Highlights

Representative Arthur Mitchell of Illinois and the Supreme Court

April 28, 1941
Representative Arthur Mitchell of Illinois and the Supreme Court Image courtesy of the Library of Congress An accomplished lawyer, Arthur Mitchell of Illinois fought for civil rights in the courtroom and Congress.
On this date, Representative Arthur Mitchell of Illinois, the only African-American Congressman of the era and the first black Democrat elected to Congress, successfully argued before the Supreme Court that African Americans were entitled to interstate railroad accommodations equal to white passengers. When a conductor forced Mitchell to vacate his first class accommodations for a “Jim Crow” car on a trip from Chicago to Arkansas in 1937, the Illinois Congressman and lawyer subsequently sued the railroad company for racial discrimination. Undeterred by the dismissal of his case by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the federal district court for northern Illinois, Mitchell brought his argument for equal facilities to the Supreme Court in March of 1941—while he served in the House of Representatives. Mitchell enthusiastically characterized the favorable Supreme Court decision as a “step in the destruction of Mr. Jim Crow himself.”

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