The Library of Virginia
 

The PLANET speaks through Editorial Cartoons:




Newspapers have long employed caricature as a means of editorial expression. The success of Thomas Nast's images, which appeared in Harper's Weekly during the Civil War, helped to transform the occassional cartoon into an art form firmly rooted in American newspaper culture. What the editorial column could not express in reasoned or impassioned argument, the editorial cartoon could express directly in image. In the pages of the Planet the cartoon became a tool wielded to some advantage.

In addition to his other roles as Editor and Manager, John Mitchell, Jr., became the Planet's first cartoonist. He designed the "Strong Arm" which appeared in the paper's masthead. He drew the haunting image of a trio of lynched men (traced from a photo of the scene). This graphic depiction of the horrors of lynching would run a-top a weekly tally of men and women, black and white, who were lynched throughout the United States.

Mitchell expressed his editorial opinion on other political and topical issues through cartoons as well. While his drawing style might be judged rather crude by today's standards, this fact should not diminish his efforts. His pen was a double-edged sword as both his written word and graphic form fought the Planet's battles.

However, the apex of the editorial cartoon in the Richmond Planet was reached when Geo. H. Ben Johnson came aboard as the editorial cartoonist. Almost nothing is known about Johnson aside from his name and the legacy of his cartoons. His first cartoons ran in 1918, and he drew weekly cartoons for almost a year from 1919-1920.

Johnson's images are notable as beautifully crafted drawings, and as strong well-artriculated statements of his Afro-centristic beliefs. He consistently reminded the Planet's readers of their African heritage by references to African-Americans as "Builders of the Sphinx and Pyramids", or as "Ethiopians". His messages were of Black pride, history, strength and dignity, and not only equality under the law, but of the soul. His cartoons represented an unflinching belief that African-Americans were the full equals of whites, with as rich a history and as important a destiny to fulfill.



Mitchell's Cartoons
Geo. H. Ben Johnson's Cartoons

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