Littleton Purnell Mitchell, known as "Lit," was born on November 27, 1918, to Littleton Vann Mitchell and Helen Ann Purnell Mitchell in Milford, Delaware. He attended the Milford Colored School until eight grade and then attended Howard High School in Wilmington, Delaware, which was the only high school for African-American students in the state of Delaware at the time. Mitchell graduated from Howard High School in 1939 and was admitted to West Chester State College of Pennsylvania (now West Chester University) on a track scholarship.
After two years in college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and served in Tuskegee, Alabama, as a member of the "Tuskegee Airmen" during World War II. While at Tuskegee Army Air Base, he served as an instructor for instrument simulator training. Mitchell was a second generation soldier, as his father also served in the US Army during World War I. In 1943, Mitchell also married Jane Evelyn Watson, who moved to Alabama to work at the Tuskegee Institute Hospital.
When he was discharged from the army in February 1946, Littleton returned to West Chester State College and continued coursework. He graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education. He later continued his formal education at the University of Delaware and Temple University, concentrating in areas of Special Education.
Mitchell remained a reserve officer in the U.S. Army, and graduated from the Athletic Directors' School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the Special Service Officer's School, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, in 1950 and 1951 respectively.
When the Governor Bacon Health Center was opened in Delaware City in 1948, Dr. M. A. Tarumianz hired Mitchell as an instructor, where he would become the first African-American in Delaware to teach white students. Mitchell would spend his entire career, until his retirement in 1984, as a teacher and counselor for emotionally troubled youth at the Governor Bacon Health Center.
At the urging of his mother, Mitchell became involved with the Milford Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at age twelve. He would join the Wilmington Branch of the NAACP during high school and eventually go on to become vice president and president of that branch. In 1961, Mitchell became president of the Delaware State Branches of the NAACP, and led the organization for over thirty years, until 1991. During his time as president, he directed efforts to ensure equal rights for African-Americans and other minorities in the state. Mitchell fought to address issues of fair housing, school desegregation, equal access to public accommodations, voting rights, and increased employment and educational opportunities for African-Americans. He worked with Louis L. Redding (1901-1998), the noted Delaware civil rights attorney and his close friend, to address many of these issues. Mitchell also was a fierce advocate for the rights of migrant workers in the state, who often lived amid squalid conditions. In addition to his leadership of the Delaware NAACP, Mitchell served as president and vice president of Region II NAACP, which is comprised of ten northeastern states from Delaware to Maine.
Lit Mitchell was also heavily involved with many community, state, and national organizations. He served as president of the New Castle Progressive Club, board member of the Delaware Alliance Federal Credit Union, president of the Gunning Bedford Kindergarten Association, member of the Governor of Delaware's Advisory Council on Affirmative Action, member of the New Castle County Executive's Transition team, president of the Governor Bacon Education Association, and board member of the African American Museum of History. He also had served on the council of the Delaware Humanities Forum from 1991 to 1997 where he advocated expanding programs to include more minorities and on the Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission as a presidential appointee representing Delaware.
Mitchell also had many personal hobbies and interests, such as international travel, track and field events, and bull fighting. He was also an active member of Christ Episcopal Church in Delaware City and a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner.
Mitchell received numerous awards and citations including the 1999 West Chester University President's Medallion for Service, West Chester University Distinguished Achievement Award, AARP Delaware 2008 Andrus Award, the Congressional Medal for service as a Tuskegee Airman, News Journal Distinguished Citizen Award, University of Delaware Medal of Merit, Delaware State Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award, and Delaware Bar Association's 2004 Liberty Bell Award. In 2008, Delaware Technical College created the Littleton and Jane Mitchell Scholarship which is awarded to nursing students.Littleton Mitchell died on July 6, 2009, and is survived by his son Philip Vann Mitchell and his wife Ernestine. He was preceded in death by his wife Jane, sisters Phyllis and Angela, and his brother Kenny.
Scott Pruden. "Remembering Littleton Mitchell," Delaware Today, July 7, 2009. http://www.delawaretoday.com/Delaware-Today/July-2009/Remembering-Littleton-Mitchell (accessed April 25, 2013).
Additional biographical information derived from the collection.
Jane Evelyn Mitchell was born Jane Evelyn Watson in 1921. Her immediate family included her father Charles Elmer Watson, Sr., her brother Eugene, and sisters Elaine and Arlene. She was a graduate of the Howard High School Provident Hospital Nursing Program and later graduated from the University of Delaware in 1963. She earned her Master's degree from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. She married Littleton Mitchell in 1943, while working at the Tuskegee Institute Hospital in Alabama.
Mitchell became the first African-American registered nurse employed in a hospital in Delaware, serving as Head Nurse at Governor Bacon Heath Center in Delaware City, Delaware. She spent the majority of her career at Delaware State Hospital in New Castle, Delaware, where she served as supervisor of Psychiatric Services, and Director of Nursing Services. Mitchell was also active in the NAACP and along with her husband, led efforts to desegregate the state's hospitals.
Mitchell also served as vice president of the Delaware Nurses Association and was president of the Delaware State Board of Nursing. She was a recipient of the University of Delaware's Medal of Merit and inducted into the Alumni Wall of Fame in 1998. She also served on the visiting committee of the University's College of Health and Nursing Sciences.
In 1999, the Delaware Psychiatric Center in New Castle was named in her honor. Other honors included being named Woman of the Year by the National Association of College Women, receiving the Award of Merit from the Delaware State Arts Council, receiving the Unsung Heroine Award from the NAACP and being inducted into the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women.
Mitchell was a member of St. Paul Catholic Church in Delaware City, volunteer for AARP, speaker for the American Cancer Society, and a member of Sigma Theta Tau, the national nursing honor society. She was also an artist, specializing in oil paintings and ceramics.
Jane Mitchell died on November 13, 2004 in Delaware City.
Carol Hoffecker. "Black Women in Delaware's History," University of Delaware, August 4, 1997. http://www.udel.edu/BlackHistory/blackwomen.html (accessed April 25, 2013).
"In Memoriam Jane E. Mitchell," UDaily, November 16, 2004. http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2005/oct/mitchell111604.html (accessed April 25, 2013).
Additional biographical information derived from the collection.
The Littleton and Jane Mitchell papers document the life and career of the Delaware-based civil rights activist and educator Littleton P. Mitchell (1918-2004) and his wife Jane E. Mitchell (1921-2004). The collection contains material relating to his education, activities as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, his three decades-long leadership of the Delaware NAACP, his career as a teacher and counselor at Governor Bacon Health Center in Delaware City, and his involvement in a number of organizations. The collection also highlights the career of Jane Mitchell, one of Delaware's first African-American nurses and former director of nursing at the Delaware State Hospital. There are also photographs, slides, and other media documenting the Mitchells' family life as well as their participation in local and national events. The collection also contains a significant amount of the many awards and citations received by Littleton and Jane Mitchell for their achievements. As a whole, the papers explore the professional, personal, and family relationships of an African-American family in the 20th century.
The Littleton and Jane Mitchell papers are divided into three subgroups. Subgroup I. of the collection contains material relating specifically to the life of Littleton Mitchell, beginning with his childhood and education, continuing through his service with the United States Army, covering his career as an educator at Governor Bacon Health Center, and documenting his participation in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and leadership of the Delaware Branch of the organization. This subgroup also contains information documenting his participation in a number of other state-level and national organizations as well as correspondence, material of personal interest collected by Mitchell, and articles about his activities and achievements.
Series I. Early Life and Education contains composition books, report cards, certificates, and other material from Mitchell's time at Howard High School, from which he graduated in 1939, and was the only school in the state of Delaware open to African-Americans at the time. There is also general information about Howard, the 50th year class reunion, and plans to preserve the historic nature of the school. This series also contains material relating to Mitchell's education at West Chester State College (West Chester University) and includes lesson plans, coursework, a graduation yearbook (1948), later information on alumni reunions, and Mitchell's keynote address given at the 1999 commencement ceremony. The series also features Littleton Mitchell's 1918 birth certificate.
Series II. Military Career documents Mitchell's service with the famed Tuskegee Airmen and subsequent service as a 2nd lieutenant in the United States Army Reserves. The Tuskegee Airmen material includes items collected by Mitchell during his service, correspondence with Jane Mitchell, and certificates of appreciation for service. Of note is documentation of a court martial conducted at Tuskegee Army Air Field and a manual used by Mitchell to instruct pilots in instrument flying. Though he did not qualify to be a pilot himself, Mitchell taught Tuskegee Airmen flyers a crucial aspect of aircraft operation. The series also contains historical information and publicity about the Tuskegee Airmen as well as material from Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., an organization created to honor the accomplishments and perpetuate the history of the group. The series contains a diary kept during his first year at Tuskegee (1942), providing a glimpse into the severe discrimination faced by Mitchell and other African-Americans in the armed forces. More detail about the diary is available in the contents list.
The second section of Series II. contains material relating primary to Mitchell's post-Tuskegee military career. Included is coursework and a certificate of completion from the Adjutant General's School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and a notebook containing handwritten notes and coursework created while he attended the Athletic Directors' School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The series also includes applications for enrollment in Army Extension courses while serving in the Army Reserve, information for veterans of World War II, and Army correspondence. The correspondence is composed of orders received while Mitchell was serving at Tuskegee Army Air Field, paperwork for a transfer to the Army Reserve, and letters regarding officer training.
Series III. Governor Bacon Health Center documents Mitchell's career as a teacher and counselor of emotionally troubled youth at the Governor Bacon Health Center in Delaware City, Delaware. It contains material regarding the general business of the Center, class policies and procedures, and student activities. Much of the correspondence included in the series regards Mitchell's efforts to fight discrimination at the Governor Bacon Health Center and increase the amount of minority staff at the institution. Problems at Governor Bacon Health Center in the 1980s are detailed in a number of news articles. There are also certificates relating to Mitchell's teaching credentials and coursework relating to his continuing education at the University of Delaware and Temple University. In addition, the series contains teaching materials such as studies, publications, and other documents relating to teaching children, specifically emotionally troubled youth.
Series IV. Civil Rights Advocacy contains information pertaining to Mitchell's involvement with local and national branches of the NAACP.
Subseries IV.A. contains a significant amount of information documenting Mitchell's NAACP Delaware Branch Leadership. The subseries is arranged chronologically and folders titled "Delaware NAACP materials" contain a wide variety of materials highlighting NAACP internal affairs, agendas, causes/initiatives, and events occurring within a given time period. Significant topics, materials, and events within each folder are detailed in the item list.
Of note throughout this subseries is correspondence from the long-serving chair of the Delaware NAACP Education Committee Mary C. Baker of Dover, who represented the interests of African-American students at Delaware State Board of Education meetings. The subseries also contains articles and editorial columns by influential Delaware journalist Bill Frank (1905-1989) of the News Journal. Frank wrote about the progress of the Civil Rights movement and followed the activities of the NAACP for decades. He frequently wrote editorials that were both critical and supportive of Mitchell's actions as president of the Delaware NAACP.
Note that there may be an overlap between materials included and topics addressed in Subseries IV.A. and other subseries in the collection.
Subseries IV.A.1.a. Political Material contains selected materials relating to the Delaware NAACP's involvement in state politics, specifically state housing legislation. The subseries features articles and copies of fair housing bills and proclamations signed by Delaware officials in honor of the NAACP. There is also material documenting Mitchell's participation in Governor Michael Castle's Affirmative Action Committee in the late 1980s.
Subseries IV.A.1.b. consists of studies and publications relating to the civil rights issues and other topics of interest to Littleton Mitchell during his service with the Delaware NAACP. Some topics covered include desegregation, race relations, crime, minority students, redistricting, and housing.
Subseries IV.A.1.c. Issues and Causes, contains selected information related to the major civil rights causes championed by Mitchell and the state NAACP during the second half of the 20 th century. The Subseries is divided into six sections: migrant labor, housing discrimination, discrimination in education, employment discrimination, prisons/justice system, and other discrimination cases.
Subseries IV.B. National NAACP contains material relating to Mitchell's participation in the NAACP on a national and regional level. It contains programs for the NAACP's annual convention from 1966 to 2003, programs for NAACP leadership training conferences, annual reports, and programs for the ceremony awarding the Spingarn Medal (awarded annually by the organization for outstanding achievements). The subseries also contains publications created by the NAACP on topics such as education, conference planning, and affirmative action. Included in these publications are issues of The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP. There is also correspondence, resolutions, directories, and other information relating to the activities of the national NAACP.
Series V. Involvement in other Delaware events and organizations contains meeting minutes, correspondence, memorandums, and correspondence documenting Mitchell's participation in and leadership of several Delaware organizations.
Subseries V.A. contains a small amount of correspondence and a newsletter relating to Mitchell's committee work with the Delaware Humanities Forum, an organization that organizes programs and funds grant proposals to promote the humanities.
Subseries V.B. contains correspondence, meeting minutes, agendas, and by-laws documenting Mitchell's service on the board of directors of the African American Museum of History and African American Museum Foundation.
Subseries V.C. contains correspondence, meeting minutes, agendas, and other material documenting Mitchell's lengthy service of more than 40 years with credit unions. Mitchell served as president of the Delaware Mental Health Association Federal Credit Union in the 1970s and later as a board member of the Delaware Alliance Federal Credit Union. Also included are publications relating to being an effective credit union board member and a Lightning Loan Computer, used to calculate monthly payments for loans.
Subseries V.D. contains reports, by-laws, proposals, and information about events held by the Community Progressive Club of New Castle of New Castle, Delaware. There is a significant amount of information documenting a costume ball organized by the club in 1994 as well as administrative transitions, publicity, and membership information.
Mitchell was also involved in a number of other organizations throughout his life. Material documenting a number of these organizations is contained in Subseries V.E. Other Organizations. Included is information about his role in a restructuring plan for the Ferris School, an incarceration facility for juveniles, and his activities as a member of a New Castle County Executive transition team.
Littleton Mitchell (along with his wife Jane) frequently visited schools in Delaware and spoke to students about the Civil Rights movement, his own experiences with racism, and his time in the Tuskegee Airmen. Subseries V.F. School Visits contains letters of appreciation and drawings from students, as well as other items relating to these talks.
Subseries V.G. Information Regarding Influential Delawareans contains biographical information, correspondence, and articles related to other "famous" Delawareans. The bulk of the material relates to Mitchell's colleague and close friend Louis L. Redding (1901-1998), who was the first African-American to be admitted to the Delaware bar and played a major role in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education court case. Included is information about Redding's career, plans to create a museum in childhood home in Wilmington, and correspondence regarding the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public Policy, created by the University of Delaware in Redding's honor.
Subseries V.H. Speeches consists of typed and handwritten introductions of other speakers used by Mitchell at various events as well as a script for a WDEL radio interview.
Series VI. Black History consists primarily of material relating to Mitchell's service on the Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission after he was selected by the White House to represent Delaware. Included is correspondence, informational packets, meeting minutes, and agendas documenting the work of the commission leading up to the 2004 anniversary as well as historical information relating to the Brown v. Board decision itself. This series also contains Black History material collected by Mitchell throughout his life. Included in this material are publications regarding racism, The Underground Railroad, and African-American achievements.
Series VII. Publicity about Littleton Mitchell, contains news clippings and articles about the life and achievements of Mitchell. Included in the series is a News Journal Valentine's Day article Littleton and Jane Mitchell's marriage, transcripts of oral history interviews of Mitchell, and information relating to the Distinguished Citizen Award received by Mitchell.
Series VIII. Correspondence, consists of correspondence generally not related to the activities of the NAACP.
Subseries VIII.A. contains selected correspondence documenting Mitchell's personal and professional relationship with a number of influential Delaware politicians. Among the politicians included are Governors (Terry, Peterson, Tribbitt, du Pont, Castle, Carper, Minner, and Markell), Senators (Biden and Carper), and other state officials. Also included is an invitation to the 1977 inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.
Subseries VIII.B. contains invitations to a number of the events attended by Mitchell since the 1970s as well as collected programs for events attended. There are also a number of congratulatory letters from friends, acquaintances, and public figures, reflecting the significant amount of awards and citations received by Mitchell. Also included in the subseries are letters of thanks for participation in events and for speeches given.
Subseries VIII.C. General Correspondence, contains correspondence to and from Mitchell regarding a variety of subjects not directly related to his NAACP or teaching activities. Of note in this subseries are two letters from individuals, one thanking him for being a figure of "inspiration" and the other from a white student at the Governor Bacon Health Center discussing her personal experiences with school integration.
Subseries VIII.D. contains works by poet Widener University Sociology professor and poet Sidney Jacobs, information regarding a recipient of the Silver Star and Purple Heart, and material relating to Mitchell's involvement in Freemasonry.
Series IX. Material of Personal Interest, consists material relating to other areas of Mitchell's life. It contains correspondence, pamphlets, newsletters, and other publications relating to religious institutions, including St. Paul M.E. Church, in Milford, Delaware, and the church attended by Mitchell when in Delaware City, Christ Episcopal Church. Mitchell had a life-long interest in sports, especially track and field. This series has a number of items relating to this topic, including publications about sports and tickets to the University of Pennsylvania Franklin Field Carnival Relay. Also included in this series are obituaries of Delawareans and others as well as speeches read at funerals or memorial services.
Subgroup II. Documents the life and career of Jane Mitchell.
Subgroup III. Contains material related to the personal lives of the Mitchell Family and includes photographs, slides, audiovisual material, calendars, ephemera, artifacts, and other items belonging to members of the family. This information documents the domestic life, family ties, professional achievements, and recreational habits of an African-American family from the early to late 20th century.
Series I. Photographs and Series II. Slides consists of images documenting the lives of the Mitchells and includes photographs and slides of family, community gatherings, vacations, and professional meetings. The unit titles for many of the photographs and slides are transcribed directly from description of the items given by the Mitchell family. More detailed descriptions of the photographs are provided at the folder level.
Series III. Vacation, documents the Littleton and Jane Mitchell's national and international travel. It includes items from Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, as well as material collected while traveling in the United States. The series also includes their passports, which feature visa stamps from various countries.
Series IV. Consists of calendars kept by Littleton Mitchell over a thirty year period. They display a schedule of events to be attended as well as Mitchell's professional and personal obligations.
Series V. consists material relating to relatives and friends of Littleton and Jane Mitchell. It contains items belonging to Littleton Vann and Helen Mitchell, the parents of Littleton. Included is a photocopy of a diary kept by Littleton Vann Mitchell during his service in World War I as well as biographical information, a daily minder, obituary and other information relating to Helen Mitchell. Littleton and Jane Mitchell's son Philip Vann Mitchell is also represented in the series by school play programs, material related to hobbies, and cards (birthday and postcard) sent to him. Several members of Littleton Mitchell's family including his grandmother Sarah, mother Helen, and sister Phyllis played musical instruments. Helen played professionally as a church organist. The series contains music sheets and instrument lessons belonging to various family members. Also included are cards from family and friends and material relating to the Mitchells' 25th wedding anniversary in 1968.
Series VI. Mitchell Domestic Material consists material relating to home improvement and the personal lives of the Mitchells. It contains selected receipts for furniture purchased in 1943 as well as material relating to alterations made to the Mitchells' Delaware City home. There are instruction manuals for home appliances and clippings of advertisements for home improvements. This series also contains other domestic material including miscellaneous publications belonging to the Mitchell family, correspondence relating to job opportunities, invoices and correspondence relating to an import business, receipts for a 4-H Club broiler chicken raising project, and certificates for the completion of civil defense courses.
Series VII. consists of citations and awards received by Littleton and Jane Mitchell from the 1970s until 2009. The series is organized chronologically and by individual.
Series VIII. Ephemera and Realia contains items and artifacts collected by Littleton and Jane Mitchell throughout their lives. Items include medals, nametags, souvenirs, pins, and caps received as gifts and collected by the Mitchells during various events such as NAACP conventions. The series also includes a significant amount of buttons, both attached large fabric sashes and arranged by theme (politics, businesses, healthcare, etc.).
Series IX. Media contains VHS tapes, audiocassettes, film reels, and other media related to black history, events attended by the Mitchells, family vacations, and other material of general interest to Littleton and Jane.
Subseries IX.A. contains VHS tapes on a variety of subjects including black history, the Civil Rights movement, family events, and the Tuskegee Airmen. Included are tapes relating to dedication of the Jane E. Mitchell building and Jane's induction into the University of Delaware Hall of Fame as well as several interviews, including one conducted by The HistoryMakers project.
Subseries IX.B. contains audiocassettes featuring recordings of NAACP meetings, interviews with Littleton and Jane Mitchell, and material related to black history. The series features an interview of Louis L. Redding conducted by Lit Mitchell on Redding's 96th birthday.
Subseries IX.B. contains film reels documenting Mitchell family vacations, domestic and career events, and commercial productions. It also contains tape reels and phonograph records. Of particular note are two phonograph records featuring voice messages from Littleton Mitchell to Jane, while he was serving at the Tuskegee Army Air Field. Further descriptions of the voice messages are available in the contents list.
Series X. Books contains books belonging to the Mitchell family. The first subseries contains books on bullfighting, a topic that fascinated Littleton Mitchell throughout his life. The second subseries contains books on a variety of topics including Masonic Rituals and religion.