Weary from his labors in behalf of anti-lynching legislation (TIME, April 19 et seq.), Representative Arthur Wergs Mitchell, only Negro in the U. S. Congress, last month decided he needed a rest. A Chicagoan, big, grey-haired Arthur Mitchell chose to spend his holiday at Hot Springs, Ark., favorite rest haven of Chicago politicians. Instead of going direct from Washington, he returned home first, bought a first-class round-trip railroad ticket and Pullman accommodations on the Illinois Central, set out from Chicago.
As his train rolled through Kentucky and Tennessee, taffy-colored Arthur Mitchell continued to ride with the white passengers, enjoy the comforts he had paid for, unconcerned that these two States, like other Southern States, still have laws that require the segregation of Negro passengers on railroad trains. At Memphis the train picked up several Rock Island cars and headed into Arkansas.
Near Forrest City, some 160 mi. from Hot Springs, there was a rude interruption. In the eyes of an approaching conductor, as well as of the Arkansas law, which provides fines for trainmen who neglect to separate Negroes from whites, Congressman Mitchell was just another Negro. The conductor ordered him to take his bags and get up to the Jim Crow car behind the baggage car. He protested, showed his ticket, pointed to a number of unoccupied sections. Vacancies or no vacancies, the conductor informed him, the only place he or any Negro could ride in Arkansas was second-class, in the Jim Crow car. When the conductor threatened to stop the train and have him arrested, he gave in, fumed in the Jim Crow car for four hours. When he reached his destination Congressman Mitchell said nothing of the incident and news of it did not leak out. Shortly after his arrival at Hot Springs he received a warm letter of welcome from Arkansas' Governor Bailey and letters from Little Rock's acting Mayor and Chamber of Commerce president, welcoming him to their city for a speech he was scheduled to make there after his stay at the spa. The facts that Chicago's Mitchell is the first Negro Democrat to sit in Congress and a New Dealer besides had all to do> with these receptions.
Congressman Mitchell's stay in Arkansas, darkened by this incident, ended in something of a personal triumph with his speech at Little Rock before a mixed audience to which he was introduced by U. S. District Attorney Fred A. Isgrig. But he was not ready to forget. On his return trip he rode the Jim Crow car of another railroad without being told. When he got back to Chicago, Congressman Mitchell, a lawyer himself, hired another lawyer to see what could be done about it.
Last week in Cook County's Circuit Court Congressman Mitchell sued the Illinois Central, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific and the Pullman Co. for $50,000. Plaintiff Mitchell's description of an Arkansas Jim Crow car: ". . . The car was divided by partitions and partly used for carrying baggage, . . . poorly ventilated, filthy, filled with stench and odors emitting from the toilet and other filth, which is indescribable." His description of the language a Southern train conductor used on a member of the U. S. Congress: ". . . Too opprobrious and profane, vulgar and filthy to be spread upon the records of this court."