Frieda Mitchell

A tireless worker for the improvement of life among African Americans, especially children, Frieda Mitchell has received national and international recognition for her work in child care reform and civil rights. Mrs. Mitchell overcame many obstacles before embarking on her life’s mission. Born in Sheldon, S.C., her parents were farmers who took on odd jobs so that their four children could attend private school. There was no school bus transportation for African-American children, so Mitchell and her siblings could not attend the segregated high school in Beaufort. The only option beyond elementary school was Mather School, a private boarding school for girls. Mitchell studied business education and excelled at Mather with a perfect 4.0 average. Even though she received a four year scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta, her parents felt that she should attend Allen University, an African Methodist Episcopal school supported by her church. From 1944-1945 she was a student at Allen, but had to withdraw because her parents did not have the financial resources to continue to support her. She then taught first grade. In 1945, Mrs. Mitchell went North to pursue a better life. After seven years, she returned home and accepted a position at a Beaufort County school. Observing the dismal living conditions, lack of political savvy and civic responsibility of many of the residents in her community, she was determined to make a difference. She organized a massive voter registration campaign. Her efforts resulted in the unseating of a magistrate in her township, who had held the position for fifty years, and in electing the first African American to Beaufort County Council. In 1965 she was the organizer and chairperson of the Beaufort County Education Community (BCEC), the central force for school desegregation. The committee’s efforts led to a landmark election in 1968 when Mitchell and Mrs. Agnes Sherman were the first African Americans elected to a school board in South Carolina. As a co-director of a community development project at Penn Community Services Center in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Mrs. Mitchell realized the magnitude of poverty and neglect of many of the rural children. She addressed daycare needs for poor working families, with emphasis on nutrition and health. In 1970 she convened an historic meeting. Thirty-seven pre-school programs, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Black Child Development Institute and a number of other state agencies came together to organize United Communities for Child Development (UCCD), a private, non-profit federation established to assist and promote community-controlled child care centers in South Carolina. Mitchell resigned from Penn Center and became the first Executive Director of UCCD. Within two years, the UCCD model was replicated in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi. The program received national attention and Frieda Mitchell became a central figure in major daycare policy discussions. By 1974, the UCCD was recognized as a valid method of funding legally constituted non-profit organizations throughout the state. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recruited Mrs. Mitchel in 1992 to conduct an international tour of five southern states in the U.S. and three townships, Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa. Touring with her were citizens from Mutare, Zimbabwe, who sought direction in establishing child care programs in their own country. After completing the tour, the Kellogg Foundation funded their project. In 1995, Mitchell retired from her position with UCCD. By 1996, however, another dream was fulfilled. She secured a $500,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the construction of a modern childcare facility. The center serves eighty children, and is named in her honor. Among her numerous awards are the Marian Wright Edelman Award for Service to Children. She is one of seven recipients of the prestigious John D. Rockefeller, III, Public Service Award.