With a family name that is inextricably linked with the NAACP and the civil rights movement both here in Maryland and nationally, Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson birthed a civil rights movement through her daughter Juanita that, three generations in, has been advocating for change in Baltimore.


Portrait of the Jackson and Mitchell family circa 1940, who played key roles in the civil rights movement. Seated from left: Keiffer Jackson, Clarence Mitchell II, Juanita Mitchell with Keiffer Mitchell on her lap, Virginia Jackson, and Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson seated far right; Clarence Mitchell Jr. standing in center. (Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, Maryland Historical Society).

Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson, the mother of a civil rights movement, is one of many history makers that call Mount Auburn Cemetery, one of Baltimore’s largest African American cemeteries, their final resting place.

She was a major organizer and president of Baltimore’s NAACP for 35 years, and her efforts helped secure the passage of fair employment legislation in Baltimore City and desegregation around the state. She married Keiffer Albert Jackson in 1910, and together they had four children, Virginia, Juanita, Marion and Bowen Keiffer.

Juanita Jackson Mitchell became the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Maryland School of law, and the first to practice law in Maryland. She followed in her mother’s footsteps as Baltimore’s NAACP president where she advocated for school desegregation and voting registration. The NAACP created the Juanita Jackson Mitchell Legal Activism Award in her name.

Juanita married Clarence Mitchell Jr. in 1938, another civil rights activist who started his work with the NAACP in 1946, and became director of the Washington Bureau in 1951. He helped get the civil rights and voting rights acts, along with the Fair Housing Act, passed in the 1960s in Congress, earning him the nickname of “101st U.S. Senator.” Former President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

Clarence’s younger brother, Perren Mitchell, in 1952, became the first African American to graduate from then-segregated University of Maryland’s graduate school after suing for admission, earning a sociology degree, and, in 1971, was the first African American elected to represent Maryland in Congress where he was a vocal member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Perren Mitchell was an advocate for affirmative action legislation while in Congress, and, in 2015, University of Maryland dedicated its art-sociology building in his name.

Clarence and Juanita Mitchell had four sons: Clarence Mitchell III and Michael B. Mitchell—both former state senators who were convicted and jailed for their involvement in the Wedtech Scandal in 1987—George Davis Mitchell and Keiffer Jackson Mitchell Sr., a physician.

Clarence Mitchell IV served as a state delegate from 1995–1999 and a state senator from 1999–2003. He currently hosts “The C4 Show” on WBAL radio. Keiffer Jackson Mitchell Jr. has also had a career in public service, a Baltimore City Council member from 1995–2007, and after an unsuccessful mayoral bid, he served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2011–2015 where he co-sponsored a bill that helped construct new city schools. He is now a special advisor on Gov. Larry Hogan’s staff.

While many knew the Mitchell family for their work in the fight for civil rights, Keiffer Jr. knew them simply as Uncle Perren, Grandpop and Grandma. He said that growing up, there was a lot of laughter and love in the family, especially during the holidays. Still, the older generations made sure the children were aware of the work they were doing, and why it was important.

“There’s never any pressure to follow in anyone’s footsteps,” Mitchell told the {AFRO}. “They just said, ‘We want you to be happy but always try to give back in whatever you do.’ My grandmother had a saying, which was, ‘service to your people is the rent you pay for your space on this earth.’ So, that’s sort of our mantra.”

Mitchell said he has many vivid memories at Mount Auburn Cemetery, including the burial of his great grandmother Lillie Mae in 1975, and his grandparents taking him and his sisters to visit the gravesites there. He took his own children there last year, he said, while teaching them more about their own history and lineage.

“Mount Auburn has a tremendous amount of history on that land there and, as I remind folks, that was the only place blacks could get buried,” Mitchell said. “There’s so many folks there that you see buried there that contributed to not just our city and state, but to the nation.”