An iconic figure in Rochester’s political and civil rights movement has died. Constance Mitchell was 90 years old.
She was originally from New Rochelle, downstate, and moved to Rochester with her husband John Mitchell in 1950.
“Connie” as she was best known, was the first African-American woman elected in Monroe County. She was elected to the Monroe County Board of Supervisors (the predecessor of the County Legislature) in 1961.
She advocated for better living and working conditions for the African-American community, especially in light of the turmoil that occurred during the 1964 racial unrest in Rochester.
In 2017, Mitchell was presented with the Frederick Douglass Medal for outstanding civic engagement.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren issued this statement:
Constance Mitchell was one of my personal heroes and role models in the fight to bring civil rights and social justice to the city of Rochester. She continued to give back to this community in many ways and she remained a source of strength and support for my family and me late into her life. I am a living example of the fact that she continued to lift as she climbed. I encourage all of Rochester’s citizens to take a moment today to offer a prayer of gratitude for the life of Connie Mitchell. We can never forget those whose shoulders we stand upon. We can never forget those whose sacrifice made our own achievements possible.
Former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson is among those remembering Connie Mitchell:
Johnson, who served three terms as mayor, first ran in 1993. But he says that when Mitchell talked to him about running, he was reluctant to do so.
“She brought me to her house for dinner, and she made her case. She and a couple of other people , Ray Scott, Bill Hall from Baden Street, a couple of other leaders and she said to me, you’re not leaving this house until you say ‘yes.'
Johnson feels that Mitchell was one of the most consequential leaders of the last half of the 20th century in Rochester.
Congressman Joe Morelle (D-25th District) had this statement:
“I join all of Rochester in mourning the loss of Connie Mitchell, an iconic activist and leader who dedicated her life to the pursuit of equality and racial justice. Connie’s commitment to breaking down barriers was nothing short of inspiring, and her contributions helped to open the door of opportunity for so many people in our community.
“I extend my prayers and deepest sympathies to the entire Mitchell family during this difficult time.”
Statement from Monroe County Legislator LaShay Harris:“
"It is with great sadness to hear of the passing of former Monroe County Board of Supervisor Constance M. Mitchell. Constance has a deep passion for service to the City of Rochester and County of Monroe. Her leadership prevailed during a time when women and people of color were typically overlooked for opportunities in government and private industry,” said LaShay D. Harris, Monroe County Legislator.
“She prevailed through the adversity of racism and sexism therefore blazing a trail for African Americans and women in government. I will continue the work Constance has begun and will look to reach back as she did for me to those behind me.”
Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo released this statement:
“Constance Mitchell was a living testament to the power that everyday people possess to make change through public service. As the first African American and first woman to serve in Monroe County elected office, Constance was an inspiration to me and so many leaders on both sides of the aisle who followed in her footsteps. Her loss will leave an incredible void, but will also beckon for the next generation of local change-makers to step forward in her place. On behalf of a grateful community, I thank Constance for her service and example, and I offer my deepest condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues.”
Filmmakers Carvin Eison and Chris Christopher talked about Mitchell’s contributions in their 2004 documentary called July '64.
Eison says that Mitchell worked to help improve the situation that led to the racial strife of 1964.
He says Mitchell realized that, “if the community is not responsive to the needs of young people who happen to be black, Latin and happen to be poor within the city Rochester, that those events could happen again. And she was always clear to say she hoped they would never happen, but she was cognizant of the fact they could happen."
Here is a segment that aired in 2013 on WXXI-TV's Need To Know program with Helene Biandudi Hofer.
Mitchell (in the 1st segment of this program), shares her reflections of the Civil Rights movement, how far the nation has come, and the work ahead: