ALFORD: Glory Days — Thinking about Art and Parren

Harry C. Alford | 11/20/2013, 3 p.m.
These two giants helped mold the National Black Chamber of Commerce and Kay and I thank God for that.
Harry C. Alford

While going through some old boxes the other day, I came upon an old videotape. It was a tribute to the late, great Parren J. Mitchell. It was produced in 1998. We had a great relationship with Linda Gill of BET and sponsor for our annual convention. BET collaborated on this tribute with us. I scurried to a photo shop down the street and had them transform the Beta tape into a DVD. With much pride, we now have it up on our website’s homepage for the world to enjoy and learn more about this great African American. The vanguard of Black business development who taught me and so many others so much about the necessity of Black entrepreneurship as a means to survival of our race.

Having found Parren’s master tape, I began wondering where was the other tribute we produced the year before this one. In 1997, we honored the great Arthur A. Fletcher, known as the father of affirmative action (I have to find that tape). Art got this moniker as he wrote the original affirmative action laws during his tenure in the President Richard Nixon’s administration. He would also serve as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Commission and would further push the implementation of components of the Civil Rights Act such as Title VI. The strides we made with contracting, hiring and promotion were led by Art and Parren and too many people don’t understand the impact they had on our lives, careers and opportunities that would come before us.

Art Fletcher and Parren J. Mitchell were born two years apart on opposite sides of our nation. Art was born in Ft. Huachuca, Ark. His father was a Buffalo Soldier. Parren was born in inner city Baltimore to activist parents. In fact, the Mitchell family is quite responsible for the success of the NAACP headquarters being relocated in Baltimore. When World War II began, they both signed up for the Army and found themselves in the Europe Theater.

Art was shipped to England and participated in the Normandy Invasion (France) while Parren shipped directly to Italy. Both were wounded during combat. Art didn’t get his deserved Purple Heart medal because the racist doctor claimed he could not determine if the bullet that went through him was from a Nazi or a red neck from General Patton’s army. He lost his spleen from the wound and was shipped back home for a long healing process. Parren received a Purple Heart for jumping on a live enemy grenade in order to save three of his fellow soldiers. If he would have been White, he would surely have gotten a Medal of Honor. After recovering from his wound he went right back into combat and received a second Purple Heart. The brother was awesome!

At the end of the war, each debater took advantage of the educational benefits for veterans (financial aid and the G.I. Bill of Rights). Art became very educated and was a promoter of higher education for Blacks. He served as president of the United Negro College Fund and coined the famous term, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” Parren wanted to pursue a master’s degree in his home state but the University of Maryland would not accept Blacks (even though they were getting their share of Black tax money).