Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The New Deal's Black Congressman: A Life of Arthur Wergs Mitchell

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The New Deal's Black Congressman: A Life of Arthur Wergs Mitchell

Article excerpt

The New Deal's Black Congressman: A Life of Arthur Wergs Mitchell. By Dennis S. Nordin. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, c. 1997. Pp. xvi, 320. $39.95, ISBN 0-8262-1102-X.)

Dennis Nordin relied on a multitude of sources, including manuscripts, interviews, government records, newspapers, and a plethora of secondary materials to write this narrative biography of Arthur Wergs Mitchell, the first black Democrat to be elected to Congress. Mitchell was often self-centered and had a less-than-abiding concern about the general welfare of black Americans. Nordin concludes that his subject was neither likable nor kind and was not always successful as a politician; nevertheless, he was influential and certainly occupied a place of historical importance.

Mitchell used his political skills to accommodate the Chicago Machine and its notorious patronage system in the 1920s and 1930s. He earned his party's nomination for Congress from the, First District of Illinois in 1934. Once in office Mitchell's foremost concern was his district's needs as articulated by the machine's operatives. Eight years on Capitol Hill brought him modest wealth and fleeting fame, but Mitchell's tenure in Congress was not characterized by groundbreaking civil rights activity. He displayed a respectful deference to FDR and enjoyed an open communication line to the Oval Office. Mitchell helped Roosevelt to fill political positions through his connections with the Chicago Machine. He also offered his help in FDR's presidential victories in 1932, 1936, and 1940, and gave some legitimacy to the Democratic party's appeals to African Americans. Mitchell could accomplish this and--following Booker T. …

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