Dr. Ophelia DeVore Mitchell
Dr. Ophelia DeVore Mitchell believed in passing on positive legacies and was the first to make the phrase "Black is Beautiful" popular. She became the inspiration for many programs including “Keepers of the Legacy Awards”
Known for her pioneer efforts in the fields of beauty, fashion, modeling, and entertainment, Dr. DeVore Mitchell was the first Mixed Race African American high fashion model and started her modeling career in New York City, NY in the late 40’s.
Dr. DeVore exemplified power, pride, presence and beauty in African American women. Over the years, she added newspaper owner, publisher, business executive, producer, author, artist and consultant to her long list of accomplishments. She traveled extensively in the U.S., Europe, Africa, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
The Augusta (GA) Museum had an exhibit on Dr. DeVore Mitchell and some of her personal possessions and newspapers (The Columbus Times) were donated to the museum. Many of her papers and other memorabilia are housed at Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).
Dr. DeVore was born on August 22, 1921 in Edgefield, South Carolina to the late Mr. John DeVore and Mrs. Mary Strother DeVore. Dr. DeVore was the last surviving offspring of the DeVore’s. Her brothers were John, Claude, Joseph, Walter and Hammond; and her sisters were Blanche, Precola, Ruth and Dorothea.
She attended southern 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, Dr. DeVore began doing occasional modeling jobs and became one of the first non-White fashion models in the United States. At the age of 16, she was traveling and working for 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, along with four of her colleagues, 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. She opened the doors of modeling and television in the late 40’s and early 50’s for men and women of African American heritage and other minorities in the United States of America.
In 1955, it was the famous Ms. Cicely Tyson, who graced the cover of Ebony magazine with an Afro and Ms. Tyson was registered with Grace Del Marco Models at the time of the publication.
She made history in 1959 and 1960 when two of her clients, Ms. Cecilia Cooper and Ms. LaJeune Hundley (a beauty queen from the Precola DeVore School-Washington, DC) were the first Americans, Black or White, to win titles at the Cannes Film Festival, in Paris, France. Throughout the 1960s, Dr. DeVore continued to revolutionize nearly every facet of the modeling and beauty industry. She 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.
She was also a Civil Rights activist who received personal accolades from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a given for Dr. DeVore to take models to the Black colleges in the south, where there were prestigious fashion shows and self-esteem workshops; at the helm was Dr. DeVore along with gorgeous women models. She taught, “Black is Beautiful,” when it wasn’t popular.
In addition to creating opportunities to showcase African Americans in magazines, on the runway, in pageants and fashion shows, Dr. DeVore started marketing to non-White audiences. As part of this project, she produced a massive promotional campaign for Johnson & Johnson that launched the career of supermodel Ms. Helen Williams. In 1955, Dr. DeVore 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.
Beginning in the early 70’s, she became the owner and publisher of The Columbus Times Newspaper in Columbus, GA where she set trends in reporting positive news about African Americans. During her decades in business, Dr. DeVore wrote a column the National Newspaper Publishers Association-NNPA and served on the board of the organization. She was 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 was one of the founders of Black Media (an advertising agency developing marketing strategies for the Black-owned newspapers). The Columbus Times Newspaper was turned over to her daughter and son-in-law, Mrs. Carol and Mr. Helmut Gertjegerdes, and now passed on to her granddaughter, Ms. Petra Ophelia Gertjegerdes.
She produced several New York City cable television shows, including the "Ophelia DeVore Show", which, to date, became one of the longest running cable shows on TV. She paved the way for many modern day talk show hosts.
She was appointed by President Reagan to the John F. Kennedy Center Committee on the Arts in 1985. In 1991, assisted by her son James Carter, the two founded DeVore Carter Communications. Dr. DeVore Mitchell continued to oversee all her enterprises and her development programs touched more than 90,000 lives.
For her outstanding service, she received more than 300 awards and honors and was named one of the 75 Black Women who Changed America in the “I Dream a World” series.
Some of the organizations she held memberships in were: the NAMD (National Association of Market Developers), National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA-The Black Press of America), NAACP, Urban League, Top Ladies of Distinction, Continental Africa Chamber of Commerce, American Women in Radio and Television, National Association of Women in Radio and Television, and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (BPW).
Dr. Ophelia DeVore Mitchell changed the face of the beauty, fashion and entertainment industries. Through her modeling agency and school, she fostered and promoted the careers of some of the country’s top African American models, entertainers and television personalities. And her business savvy took all over the world, spreading positive news about people of color.
Dr. DeVore Mitchell had five children with her first husband, Mr. Harold Carter, whom she married in 1941. She married her second husband, Columbus Times, publisher Mr. Vernon Mitchell, in 1968. Her children are: Mrs. Carol Carter Gertjegerdes, Mr. James DeVore Carter, Dr. Marie Carter Moore, Ms. Cheryl Carter Parks and Mr. Michael Carter. All of her children worked in the businesses at one time. Her grandchildren are: Petra, Mark, Helmut, Tanya, LaJuan, Lori, James, Jr., Shawn Carter and Karis. She has 16 great grandchildren.
Through her wide and diverse involvement in nearly every facet of the modeling, beauty, fashion, entertainment, marketing and news industries, Dr. DeVore Mitchell has helped society move closer to realizing her own mission. She was the Architect of Charm and Modeling for people of Color.
Dr. Ophelia DeVore died peacefully on Friday, February 28, 2014.
She will forever be a timeless legacy.