From the Kinston Free Press, May 10, 1916.
A multi-term member of both houses of the North Carolina legislature, Clingman Webster Mitchell was a standout figure in the political life of Bertie County in the late 19th and early 20th century. Acknowledged by the Raleigh News Observer as one of the leading Democratic orators of his day, Mitchell again sought elective office 1916, launching a campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Hoping to wrest the congressional seat from Claude Kitchin (a near twenty-year incumbent), Mitchell would lose that primary race in a very lopsided contest. The son of William J. and Mary Elizabeth Winnifred Mitchell, Clingman Webster "C.W." Mitchell was born in Bertie County, North Carolina on August 16, 1860. Mitchell looks to have been given his first name in honor of Joseph Lanier Clingman (1812-1897), one of the preeminent political figures in Antebellum North Carolina and at the time of Mitchell's birth, a sitting U.S. Senator from that state.
In his youth, Clingman W. Mitchell studied at the Elm Grove Academy in Chowan County and from 1877-81 attended Wake Forest College. He would marry in February 1883 to Pauline Holliman, to who he was wed until his death. The couple would have five children, Herbert Hawthorne (1884-1912), Clingman Webster Jr. (1894-1979), Carrie, and two other children that died in infancy.
By the late 1880s, Clingman Mitchell had established himself in business at Aulander, North, Carolina, where he was the proprietor of a corn mill. The succeeding years saw him gain further prominence in that area's business sector, owning his own general merchandise store, as well as being the founder and president of the Bertie Cotton Oil Company, an extensive business that housed not only an oil mill but also a fertilizer plant and a cotton gin. Mitchell later added further business successes to his resume with his time as president of both the Aulander Live Stock and Supply Co. and the Bank of Aulander. He is further noted as having engaged in farming for a good majority of his life, as well as having lumber interests in his region. Mitchell also etched his name into local area history when he erected the first hotel in Aulander, the Choanoke, which was completed in the late 1890s and was damaged by fire decades later.
As a leading Baptist in North Carolina, Clingman Mitchell held the post of moderator of the West Chowan Baptist Association for many years and was a delegate and former president of the Baptist State Convention. For an indeterminate length of time Mitchell served on the board of trustees of the Thomasville Baptist Orphanage, and in his hometown of Aulander was a longtime Sunday School and Bible class teacher. In addition to church work, Mitchell was heavily invested in educational matters in his state, being a trustee of both his alma mater, Wake Forest College, as well as the Chowan College in Murfreesboro. Further notice is given to Mitchell's importance to the school system in Aulander, with his 1921 obituary noting:
"His interest in education is best evidenced by the magnificent school building and equipment in his home town, due very largely to his efforts and organization."Clingman Mitchell's business achievements and popularity in Bertie County eventually led to calls for him to run for public office, and in 1892 he did just that, gaining the Democratic nomination for state senator from Bertie and Northampton County. He was elected that November and during the 1893-95 session was named to the senate committees on Agriculture; Banks and Currency; Enrolled Bills; Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Asylums; and Propositions and Grievances. Mitchell's first senate term proved to have a profound effect on his constituents in Northampton County, who in the 1894 election year gained the turn to elect a senator. The residents of that county were so satisfied with Mitchell's service they "insisted upon nominating Mr. Mitchell on account of his popularity and strength in the district" and was one of just five Democrats elected to the senate for the 1895-97 session. Mitchell's second term saw him sit on twelve new committees, those being Claims; Counties, Cities, and Towns; Federal Relations; Finance; Fisheries; Insurance; Military Affairs; Penal Institutions; Pensions and the Soldier's Home; Public Health; Public Roads; and Railroads and the Railroad Commission.
Clingman W. Mitchell as he appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer, March 19, 1905.
By 1898 Clingman Mitchell could look back on two successful senate terms, and had gained additional repute as an orator of "great power and in demand for all sorts of occasions." Following a third senate win in 1902 (serving in the 1903-05 session), Mitchell was elected to the state house of representatives from Bertie County in 1904. The 1905-07 term not only saw him chair the committee on House Expenditures but also serve on the committees on the Democratic Caucus, Finance, Fish and Fisheries, and Liquor Traffic. The Raleigh News and Observer would also take special note of Mitchell's oratorical prowess during this session, remarking:
"He was said, by many, to be the most eloquent speaker in the House. Certainly there was no speaker more effective or eloquent. He spoke only on matters of great importance, such as his powerful speech on the divorce question, on the Ward bill, for reform in criminal trials, for legislation promoting the welfare of the state. He stood for everything that would benefit the State, would make its citizens better, make it more prosperous, and he led in some of the most important fights of the session."
Following the conclusion of his house term in 1907, Mitchell returned to the state senate for a fourth term, having won reelection in November 1906. This term saw him chair the Agriculture committee and was named to the committees on Education, Finance, and Railroads. This term would also see Mitchell pull political "double duty", as it were, as he was named to the North Carolina State Board of Agriculture in 1907, where he served until the year of his death.
From the 1903-05 North Carolina Senate composite.
In 1916 Clingman Mitchell "received the urgent request of many Democrats" to seek the Congressional seat held by popular Democratic representative and House Majority leader Claude Kitchin (1869-1923), who had served uninterrupted terms in Congress since 1901. This primary contest extended from Kitchin coming out against President Woodrow Wilson's "programme for national defense", which, in turn, soured many constituents in Kitchin's district. With news of this contest making the papers as far away as New York, Mitchell hit the stump and made note that he believed that:
"The country needs not so much fluent speakers as men who will think for and labor for a constructive legislative program conducive to the industrial progress of the South and Nation."On primary election day in June 1916, it was Claude Kitchin who proved successful at the polls, besting Mitchell by a several thousand votes and even carried Mitchell's home county of Bertie. Following this defeat, Mitchell continued service on the state board of agriculture, and in 1917 took part with the other members of that board in planning for that year's state fair. Clingman Webster Mitchell died at his home in Aulander on June 20, 1921, aged 60. After his passing, Mitchell was memorialized by his friend Francis Winston, a former North Carolina Lieutenant Governor, as an outstanding figure in state politics, religious work and civic affairs, remarking:
"To some it would seem that he died young. In good done and work accomplished he lived long. Any life here, if it leads to a worse life hereafter, is too long. Any life here, if it leads to a better life hereafter, is long enough. Clingman Webster Mitchell therefore lived long enough."Clingman W. Mitchell was survived by his wife Pauline and two of his children, with burial occurring in Aulander in a private cemetery on the farm of his grandfather, James Mitchell.
From the Raleigh News Observer, June 22, 1921.