Among Ms. Mitchell’s many successful campaigns was the acquittal of Joan Little, a North Carolina inmate accused of murdering a prison guard who had sexually assaulted her. She also lobbied on behalf of the Wilmington 10, a group of nine Black men and one woman, also in North Carolina, who were convicted of arson and conspiracy in 1971 and later exonerated.
“I don’t think I have ever known someone as consistent in her values, as collective in her outlook on life, as firm in her trajectory as a freedom fighter,” Dr. Davis said at a 2009 event honoring Ms. Mitchell.
Charlene Alexander was born on June 8, 1930, in Cincinnati. Her parents were part of the Great Migration of Black Southerners who moved north in the first part of the 20th century — her father, Charles, came from Georgia and her mother, Naomi (Taylor) Alexander, from Tennessee.
Her marriages to Bill Mitchell and Michael Welch both ended in divorce. Along with her son, she is survived by two brothers, Deacon Alexander and Mike Wolfson.
When she was 9, Charlene, her parents and her seven siblings moved to Chicago, where her father worked as a Pullman porter and a hod carrier. He was also active in the labor movement and served as a precinct captain for Representative William L. Dawson, one of the few Black members of Congress.
The family settled in Cabrini Homes, a mixed-race public-housing development on Chicago’s Near North Side, which was a center of left-wing politics. When she was 13, Charlene joined the local branch of American Youth for Democracy, the youth branch of the Communist Party.
By the early 1940s she was already an activist, helping to lead a protest against a nearby theater, the Windsor, that required Black patrons to sit in the balcony. Black and white students, attending a matinee, simply switched places one day, and the theater dropped its segregation policy soon after.