The Library of Virginia

John Mitchell, Jr., and the Richmond Planet

Masthead of The Richmond Planet

"Born in the Wake of Freedom"

The Civil War and slavery lay just seventeen years behind. One of the stormiest periods in the history of the nation was drawing to a close. The assassination of Lincoln, the turmoil of reconstruction and the Hayes-Tilden controversy were fresh in the memories of Richmonders of that day. Gathering in an upper room of a building located near the corner of Third and Broad streets thirteen former slaves (James H. Hayes, James H. Johnston, E.R. Carter, Walter Fitzhugh, Henry Hucles, Albert V. Norrell, Benjamin A. Graves, James E. Merriweather, Edward A. Randolph, William H. Andrews and Reuben T. Hill) pooled their meager resources and started America's oldest Negro newspaper on a career which was destined to play an important part in molding the opinions of Negroes in this city, state and nation. [Richmond Planet, 5/28/1938]

The first editors of the Planet were Edwin Archer Randolph, a Yale graduate and a leading politician of his day, who served as editor- in-chief. James E. Merriwether, an outstanding educator and civic leader, and E.R. Carter, also prominent in politics, served under Randolph as contributing editors. Reuben T. Hill was selected to manage the paper while the other members of the group, mostly employed as public school teachers, made occasional contributions to its columns. [Richmond Planet, 5/28/1938]

No stranger to controversy even in its early days, the Planet took a strong editorial stance against the rumor that the Richmond School Board was planning to sack the Negro School Principals: James H. Hayes, Albert V. Norell, and James Johnston. The School Board was so displeased that most of the male Negro school teachers lost their jobs. Among them, John Mitchell, Jr.

Although Mitchell did not found the Richmond Planet, a newspaper,"born in the wake of freedom," nor was he its first editor, it was under his tenure that the Planet gained its well-deserved reputation as a proponent of racial equality and of rights for the African-American community.

Born a slave in Richmond on July 11, 1863, Mitchell was appointed editor of the weekly paper in 1884 at the age of just twenty-one. He quickly gained a reputation as a man determined to expose racial injustice wherever it lurked. One writer described him as, "dar[ing] to hurl the thunderbolts of truth into the ranks of the wicked." "No stronger race man is known among us," the adulation continued. "Clinging to no party, subserving to no one interest save that of the oppressed, he throws the full force of heart and mind into every question that will affect...the welfare of his brethren." [Freeman, (Indianapolis, Indiana, 8/30/1890)]

Under Mitchell, the Planet's masthead, the 'Strong Arm', was a flexed bicep surrounded by shock waves that radiated out from a clenched fist, reflecting the force and energy with which Mitchell projected his opinions. For forty-five years, the Planet covered news: local; national; and worldwide. Much of the paper's focus, however was on lynchings, segregation and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Deterred by none, Mitchell's reports, editorials and cartoons denounced racial prejudice and ridiculed its perpetrators.

The images that you are about to see are taken directly from the microfilmed pages of the Planet itself. They open a window into the past and allow us to look back to a dark and desperate time in our nation's history when Jim Crow prevailed and the lynch mob ruled.