Charles Edward Mitchell, 88, DuPont lawyer and Navy vet

Posted: June 25, 2014

THE POOL OF BLACK lawyers in Pennsylvania was given a needed boost in the early '70s thanks to men like Charles Mitchell.

Charles and other African-American lawyers recognized that the bar examination discriminated against black candidates. They decided to take action.

The result was that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to change the bar exam from essay questions to multiple choice and to stop requiring candidates to submit photographs with their applications.

"After these changes, the number of black candidates rose significantly and resulted in a larger pool of black attorneys," said his son Charles L. Mitchell.

Charles Edward Mitchell, one of the first two African-Americans employed as lawyers for E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. in Wilmington, Del., and an expert on labor and employment law, died June 5 of cardiac arrest after an intracranial hemorrhage. He was 88 and lived in East Falls.

Charles, who received his law degree from Temple University in 1954, joined DuPont in 1972. He represented the company and its management officials in unfair-labor-practice accusations, union-election challenges, arbitration and employment discrimination. He retired in 1992.

Before joining DuPont, Charles held a number of positions in Philadelphia, including a year of teaching at Sulzberger Junior High School, a stint as an assistant district attorney handling criminal prosecutions in the early '60s, a year with the city Finance Department, and four years with the Philadelphia office of the U.S. Department of Health and Public Welfare.

He was an examiner for the National Labor Relations Board before joining DuPont.

Charles also spent three years in the Navy during World War II, serving on the USS Repose, a hospital ship.

He was born in Seymour, Ind., to Edward Charles, a traveling salesman, and Lula Belle Thompson, in what his son Charles described as "challenging beginnings." He was raised in Gary, Ind.

Money was a problem, and the family sometimes couldn't afford to buy food and had to stand in food lines for charity handouts, his son said.

From these struggling beginnings, Charles managed to attend high school and ultimately enroll at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

He was at Morehouse when he entered the Navy. After his service, he returned to Gary and worked for a time in a steel mill. He eventually moved to New York City and enrolled at New York University, from which he received a bachelor's degree. He moved to Philadelphia and attended Temple University for his law education.

As for his difficult beginnings, his son said his father "chose the high road. He developed a positive attitude and was able to see the good and potential in all people."

His son is a lawyer in New York City.

Charles married Julia Sarjeant Mitchell in 1951. She died in 1994. He married Lloyd Overton-Martin in 2002.

He enjoyed playing golf, and challenged courses across the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean. He and his wife were dedicated travelers, and visited China, Spain, Italy, France and England.

Another son, Dr. Albert B. Mitchell, a Philadelphia dentist, said his father was "overflowing with kindness and unselfish love."

His son Charles' wife, Yvonne, said her father-in-law was "someone who never had anything bad to say about anyone."

Besides his wife and sons, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Alexis Martin, a Philadelphia lawyer; and a granddaughter, Julia.

Services: Memorial service July 26 at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Ave.

Donations in his name may be made to the Absalom Jones House at the church.

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