Charlene Mitchell, the 1968 Communist Party presidential nominee and first Black woman to run for US president has died at a local Manhattan nursing home, her son Steven Mitchell confirmed to the New York Times. She was 92.
Mitchell was a staunch advocate of the Communist Party and joined the movement in 1946. Her issues of importance stemmed around feminism, civil rights and anticolonialism.
In 1958, she became the party’s youngest member, where she helped to spawn a radical civil rights movement meant to draw in a new league of Black leaders. She would later be the founder of an all-Black chapter in Los Angeles called the Che-Lumumba Club – the name is a cross between the Argentine Marxist Che Guevara and the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba.
“I don’t know of anything that Charlene was involved in where she was not the leader,” Mildred Williamson, who met Ms. Mitchell at a 1973 anti-apartheid conference in Chicago, told the New York Times.
At 38 years old, she would place her bid at the Communist Party’s presidential nominee. “Black and White Unite to Fight Racism — Poverty — War!” read a banner at the convention where she accepted the nomination.
“We plan to put an open-occupancy sign on the White House lawn,” she said at the time she accepted the nomination. “We propose to put a woman in that house to beautify not only our highways but to beautify ourselves.”
Four years later, New York congresswoman Shirley Chisholm would become the first Black woman to seek the nomination for president from a major party.
Born to Great Migration of Black Southerners, Alexander and her family moved to Chicago, where her father worked as a porter and served as a precinct captain for Representative William L. Dawson. The congressman was one of just a few Black members of Congress at the time. It was in Chicago where Alexander’s political journey began. She would end up joining the local branch of American Youth for Democracy, the youth branch of the Communist Party.
Years later, in 1968, she would run for the party’s presidential nominee. “The country’s rulers want to keep Black and white working people apart,” she said during her campaign speech. “The Communist Party is dedicated to the idea that — whatever the difficulties — they must be brought together, or neither can advance.”