The Library of Virginia

The Death of John Mitchell, Jr., and the on-going life of the PLANET

“He battled for what he conceived to be the rights of his race and was broad enough to battle for the human rights of all the people.” [Richmond Planet, 12/7/1929]
Race Chieftan Sheds Armor  Masthead.

John Mitchell’s sudden death marked the end of an era for the Richmond Planet. No longer would Richmonders read of Mitchell’s crusading ways, political life, or doomed business ventures. Throughout the rest of December 1929, and into January 1930 the Planet carried letters of condolence, obituaries, and eulogies in place of the usual editorial column. The praise and reverence paid to Mitchell was demonstrated through the sheer number of letters sent in, and, more importantly, the words contained in them.

The demise of Mitchell, the self-proclaimed, “Stormy Petrel,” by no means meant the end of the Planet. He was quickly succeeded by his nephew, Roscoe C. Mitchell, as editor. Following a general reorganization of the paper, M.A. Norrell became editor in 1931. Under his leadership, the Planet continued to be at the forefront of issues concerning African-Americans, as well as the Richmond community. This would change in 1938.

In May of that year the Richmond Planet was bought out by the Afro-American of Baltimore, Maryland, one of the most prominent African-American newspapers in the country. On May 28, 1938 the editors of the Planet paid a final homage to the founders of their paper, its illustrious history, and to John Mitchell, Jr., as they published their farewell edition.

On June 4, 1938, the first edition of the Afro-American and Richmond Planet was distributed in Richmond. While the paper carried the name of the Planet and reported on Richmond and other Virginia news, it was very obviously part of the Afro-American line of newspapers.

Over the decades the paper would undergo several incarnations:

    Afro-American and Richmond Planet, 1938-1939
    Richmond Afro-American and Richmond Planet, 1939
    Richmond Afro-American, 1939-1941
    Richmond Afro-American, the Richmond Planet, 1941-1996

The Afro-American/Planet continued to report the evolving African-American struggle for equality and justice. The Afro covered the news of people and events from Marian Anderson to Joe Louis, through front-line WW II reporting to the first boycotts and sit-ins, through Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to the Black Panthers, through Jesse Jackson to Louis Farrakhan.

The Richmond Afro-American, the Richmond Planet ceased publication in 1996. The paper had been plagued with poor subscription lists (as have most Black newspapers) for several years despite an attempt at free distribution in an effort to win readership and raise advertising revenue. Ironically in the middle of Black History Month, on February 13, 1996, “the longest running weekly Black newspaper in America” died and the legacy of Mitchell's Richmond Planet finally came to an end.

The Afro-American continues to be published. Aside from it's long-running Baltimore edition (founded in 1892), the Afro-American continues to publish an edition for Washington, D.C.

While the demise of the Richmond Planet marked the end of an era for African-American newspaper publishing, the city of Richmond does not want for an African-American newspaper. The Richmond Free Press, which began in 1992, publishes on a weekly basis. While the Free Press may not have the history of a Richmond Planet, one can hope that it will manage to create as important and long-lasting legacy of its own.

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