Constance “Connie” Mitchell is considered a civil rights icon who dedicated her life to the pursuit of racial justice within our region and Monroe County. She made history as the first African-American woman to be elected to the Monroe County Board of Supervisors in 1961, later known as the Monroe County Legislature. Not planning to go into politics, “She held the highest public office of any African-American woman in the U.S,” according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
She was viewed as a force to be reckoned with in her fight for equality and social justice. Mrs. Mitchell was known to open her home, heart, and spirit to many people regardless of ethnicity or social and economic background, for she touched many lives over the span of 5-6 decades living in Rochester. National figures in the fight for civil rights found their way to her home as they traveled through Rochester, including Dick Gregory and Robert F. Kennedy.
Connie and her husband, John, moved to Rochester in the 1950s and went right to work as activists and civil rights leaders. “I think being a woman, there was a lot of resentment from men, period ... black and white men,” she said. “They had this feeling that women had a place and it certainly wasn’t at the table with them.”
They hosted Malcolm X in 1965 during one of his visits to Rochester, inviting community members to join them to discuss how to improve conditions for the people of Rochester, especially after the Rochester Riots in 1964. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama as she continued her fight for the rights of African-Americans in the Rochester area, breaking down barriers in the workplace for race and gender issues. She also was instrumental in advocating for better living conditions for migrant farm workers in Sodus.
Constance Mitchell wore many hats but was outstanding as a mentor and giant for local politicians. “She was a very public person,” former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson said. “The record shows that. But she also very effectively worked out of the public eye, working with young people, motivating young people, helping them get jobs, helping them get into college. She could be powerfully persuasive.”
She died at the age of 90 on Dec. 14, 2018, leaving a legacy of good works as a great woman for all to capture and learn from.