Today we celebrate the life of Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell. Mitchell is a former model and a businesswoman. She was one of the first black models in the world. She took her experience as a model and created her own business to afford black models and entertainers with more opportunities. EVERYDAY is black history.
Mitchell was born in the small town of Edgefield, South Carolina. She attended segregated schools as a child but eventually went to live with an aunt in New York City, where she graduated from Hunter College High School before going on to major in mathematics at New York University. During this time, DeVore-Mitchell began doing occasional modeling jobs and became one of the first non-white fashion models in the United States. She modeled for many magazines and publications including Ebony Magazine.
In 1946 she enrolled in the Vogue School of Modeling, which until that time had excluded women of color. Later that year, she, and her colleagues created and founded the Grace Del Marco Modeling Agency as a way to help create opportunities for models of color. In 1948 she created The Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling. This school taught young black women to learn etiquette, self-presentation and confidence. Students also learned ballet, etiquette, poise etc.
Through the school she helped support the social and professional goals of more than 20,000 students. Some of her notable graduates include Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Gail Fisher, Susan Taylor, Gil Noble, Ellen Holly and Faith Evans.
Mitchell then started marketing to non-white audiences to gain employment opportunities and the mainstream marketing of young black women models and entertainers. As part of this project, she produced a massive promotional campaign for Johnson & Johnson that launched the career of supermodel Helen Williams.
In 1955, DeVore-Mitchell and her models made history as hosts of ABC’s weekly television show, “Spotlight on Harlem.” It was the first television program in New York produced by and for African Americans. She made history again in 1959 and 1960 when two of her clients, Cecilia Cooper and LaJeune Hundley were the first Americans, black or white, to win titles at the Cannes Film Festival. In the 1960’s Mitchell created two of the first nationally known ethnic beauty contests in the U.S., developed a fashion column for the Pittsburgh Courier Newspaper and created a line of cosmetics specially formulated for people of color.
In 1985, Mitchell was appointed by President Reagan to the John F. Kennedy Center Committee on the Arts. She is the owner and publisher of The Columbus Times, a founder of The Black Press Archives at Howard University and was elected several times as the National Secretary of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. She has produced several New York City cable television shows, including the “Ophelia DeVore Show.” In 1991, assisted by her son James Carter, the two founded DeVore Carter Communications. DeVore-Mitchell continues to oversee all her enterprises and, at present, her development programs have touched more than 90,000 lives. For her outstanding service, she has received more than 200 awards and honors and was named one of the 75 black women who changed America in the “I Dream a World” series.
Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell is a an amazing woman whose accomplishments have helped revolutionize the African American women in the modeling and entertainment industry. She saw the lack of black women and men in the modeling and entertainment industry, and did something about it. Her two schools the Grace Del Marco Modeling Agency and The Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling helped pave the way for many models and entertainers. Lets honor her today. Mitchell’s schools and work with black men and women have helped create a positive platform of success for so many. She has advocated the existence of blacks in the modeling and entertainment industry. She is a woman that knows her worth and the worth of other black men and women was not limited to a few ads, or films. This is why she created her institutions and programs. She knew we could be more. Without her sacrifices, and efforts, many of us would be unable to work in these industries. Mitchell has helped make this possible for us. Family, never forget that you too, can issue change when you see that it is needed. We do not have to wait to be recognized or included. We can create our own institutions to prepare our own, to work in fields that have a lack of us. We all have a little bit of Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell within us. Once, we can realize that we are limitless, and not bound by circumstance, we can then immerse ourselves in everything we can are and can become. ~Know Your Worth~