Among the First to Lead This Struggle: The legacy of Charlene Mitchell

Dec 28, 2022

I want all the revolutionaries and young freedom fighters who are members of the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression to join us as we dip our banners of struggle for our dear comrade, Charlene Alexander Mitchell, who was born June 8th, 1930, and died on December 14th.

In the last week or so, I've read thousands of words on Charlene’s passing and becoming part of the pantheon of revolutionaries who have gone before her.

A lot of things have been said about her particular political contributions: her rise to leadership in the Communist Party; her being the first Black woman to run for president; and the tremendous contributions she made in defense of democracy and the freeing of hundreds of political prisoners during the 1970s and 80s. But I'm afraid that what has been written so far, as deserving and fitting as it is, misses one very critical point about Charlene's life and her legacy. I would say she was first among those in the 20th century - along with Angela Davis, Henry Winston and William Patterson - Black Communists – that created one of the most powerful and inspiring movements in the Campaign to free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners.

It is amazing to think of what that movement accomplished: in over 60 different countries and over a thousand cities in the United States, the call went out to free all political prisoners at the time. The call included those who had gone to jail for political reasons, but also those who had gone to jail for other reasons – in the main, being trapped in ghettos and the constant cycles of crime - but who later on became political prisoners by their fight for their rights as human beings while they were in prison, like the Attica brothers and George Jackson. Like myself.

I was languishing in a dungeon called the Missouri State Pen and fighting an uphill battle to overturn a sentence of life plus 50 years when the National Alliance was founded by Charlene, Angela, Anne Braden, and 700 other brave souls in Chicago in 1973. In 1976, I came home from prison because of the Alliance, and in 1981 I was granted an executive clemency by the governor of Missouri because of the unspeakable power of the movement led by Charlene Mitchell. Charlene organized and fought not only for Angela Davis, but she also helped to free many more from the hellholes of America’s prisons.

Because of the accomplishments of the movement she led, I believe Charlene’s legacy has a far deeper meaning for Black liberation than what is expressed in anything I’ve read thus far.

This is the legacy that I want to bring attention to. This is the legacy which I think has fueled more than anything else the fires that we still see burning in the struggle for Black liberation to date. This fueled the fires of the George Floyd and Brionna Taylor rebellion. The fact that the Alliance was engaged in this rebellion in a leadership role is no small tribute to Charlene's historic leadership in the founding of this organization almost 50 years ago. The Chicago Alliance winning the enactment of the ordinance Empowering Communities for Public Safety is a tribute to her, as well.

That's the legacy that she left us. She left us a legacy of struggle. She used to say, “Organization plus unity plus struggle equals victory.” We still have that in our literature. And every time we put that in our literature, we honor Charlene Mitchell because she's the one that gave us that.

She said, “Lead our people not in their frustration, but lead them out of it.” Every time we organize the fight to free a political prisoner; every time we organize a fight against police crimes and police brutality and murder; every time we work with families who have lost loved ones; with families who still have loved ones that are languishing in prison; every time we do this here and now, we pay tribute to Charlene Mitchell, who started this fight for us almost five decades ago.

Charlene was the architect and the strategic leader of the most massive defense campaign in history - defending the Black liberation movement, the democratic rights of workers and oppressed people, and the rights of revolutionaries, be they communists, the nationally oppressed, or both.

We in the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression dip our banners of struggle saluting Charlene Alexander Mitchell while we proudly continue as the torch carriers of her living legacy.

Frank Chapman
Executive Director, NAARPR
December 28, 2022