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Juanita Jackson Mitchell marched up the street toward our little group like she was

 the Empress of South Baltimore. With her were two reluctant but grimly-determined

policemen, clearly more afraid of her anger than of the jeering, racist crowd.



Much is Expected

Or Down By Riverside with Juanita

By Elijah E. Cummings

(Maryland's 7th District)


I could not have been older than nine or ten when "Captain" Jim Smith from our neighborhood recreation center and the NAACP’s Juanita Jackson Mitchell joined forces to stand up for us. It happened at a swimming pool called Riverside. We were just children looking for a way to escape the summer heat of South Baltimore’s concrete and asphalt streets.

In those days, South Baltimore’s white children swam and relaxed in the Olympic-sized Riverside Pool that the City maintained not far from where I lived. Black children were barred from Riverside by the cruelty of segregation. We were consigned by the color of our skin to the aging wading pool at Sharp and Hamburg Streets, a pool so small we had to take turns to be able to sit in the cool water.

Upset about our exclusion from our neighborhood’s public pool, we complained to Jim Smith. To their everlasting credit, Captain Smith, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Clarence Mitchell III and Michael Mitchell organized a march, a struggle that others soon joined.

I would like to be able to tell you that the white families at Riverside accepted us graciously – after all, we were just little children. Sadly, that is not what happened. As we tried to gain entrance to the pool each day for over a week, we were spit upon, threatened and called everything but children of God. We were afraid, and our parents became concerned for our safety.

Captain Smith requested police protection for us – but no help was forthcoming. It seemed as if we were alone in a hostile world. Then, when all seemed lost, Juanita Jackson Mitchell marched up the street toward our little group like she was the Empress of South Baltimore. With her were two reluctant but grimly-determined policemen, clearly more afraid of her anger than of the jeering, racist crowd.

Today, more than 40 years later, the history books say that the Riverside pool was peaceably integrated. It was – by the authority of Thurgood Marshall’s Constitution, the NAACP’s growing political power and Juanita Jackson Mitchell’s determination that all children would be treated fairly.

Reflecting on my childhood, I think it was at that moment – there at the gate to Riverside – that I realized that the law and service to the community would define my future. As Eleanor Roosevelt once observed:

"Human rights must begin in small places close to home. They are the world of the individual person, where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere."

The desire to go swimming on a hot summer day – and the terrible impact on me when were denied the use of that Riverside swimming pool – kindled a fire in me, a fire that enlightened my understanding of my own nature and destiny. Lawyers like Juanita Jackson Mitchell helped people. And that, I had come to understand, was what I was destined to do with my life. The only problem was that I was a poor child of color – one of seven children of parents who were denied an education.

I had spent most of my elementary school training in South Baltimore as an unhappy member of what then was called the "3rd Group" - what we today call "special education." To this day, I remember the cold, incredulous, rejecting words of my 6th grade school counselor. "You want to be a lawyer? Who do you think you are?"

When I think back to that time, I do something I have done every morning of my adult life. I thank God for the wonderful adults who gave me my head start in life: I thank God for Mr. Hollis Posey, the sixth grade teacher who listened to my dreams, who believed in my potential as a human being, and who taught to my strengths, not my limitations. And I thank God for my parents, who convinced me that I could become whatever I decided to be. With their help – and the help of many other people – I made it through the gauntlet of prejudice and poverty, cruelty and indifference.

I made it out of the 3rd group. I graduated second in my class from Baltimore City College High School. I became a Phi Beta Kappa at Howard University. I became a lawyer at the University of Maryland. I was elected to public office and rose to the position of Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House of Delegates  and, today, I serve the people of Baltimore in the Congress of the United States of America.

For all of us, our experience in life is the foundation upon which we construct our education about what is important. So, it will not surprise you that, today, my foremost goal in the Congress is to give every child in America the opportunity to develop their unique and diverse abilities - to achieve excellence on their own terms.

Source: Commencement Address at Savannah State University (12/ 8/ 2001)

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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update 2 May 2012




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Related files: Juanita E. Jackson Bio  Indictment of Lynching  Much is Expected   Youth and the Lynching Evil