Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell, pioneering model, dies at 93

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 2, 2014 

Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell

SPECIAL TO THE LEDGER-ENQUIRER

One of the first African-American models in the country and founder of the first black model agency, Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell died Friday at the age of 93 in New York City.

She was more well known in Columbus as the longtime owner of the Columbus Times newspaper, now owned and operated by her daughter Carol Gertjegerdes.

Gertjegerdes said her mother had recently suffered a stroke and had been in hospice care.

She said her mother asked to be cremated and there will be a memorial service in New York.

She said a lot of women were able to have careers because of her mother’s pioneering ways.

“She saw a need,” Gertjegerdes said. “She opened so many doors for people of color in modeling and entertainment.”

At the age of 16, she attended the Vogue School of Modeling in New York and began her modeling career, appearing in Ebony Magazine. Aware of how African-Americans were stereotypically depicted in the printed media, she made it her mission to change those images.

In 1946, DeVore-Mitchell opened the Grace del Marco Modeling Agency and in 1948 she created the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling.

According to Emory University, to which she gave her papers, these agencies paved the way for African-Americans to pursue careers in the fashion and entertainment industries at a time when it was almost unthinkable for black women to be recognized in the media for their beauty.

She helped launch the careers of actresses Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson.

Her agency also represented stars such as Gail Fisher and Richard Roundtree.

“She saw an injustice and took a stand,” said her daughter.

According to the National Visionary Leadership Project, DeVore-Mitchell and her models made history in 1955 as hosts of ABC’s weekly television show “Spotlight on Harlem,” which was the first television show in New York produced by and for African-Americans.

She produced several New York cable television shows, including the “Ophelia DeVore Show.”

“She loved to work long into the night,” Gertjegerdes said. “She never smoked. She never drank. She was very protective of us, visiting the homes of our friends.”

DeVore-Mitchell was born in 1922 in Edgefield, S.C.

In 1941, she married a firefighter Harold Carter with whom she had five children. They divorced and in 1968 she married Vernon Mitchell.

She is survived by her five children: Carol Gertjegerdes, James Carter, Marie Moore, Cheryl Parks and Michael Carter, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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