Author: Errol Somay


John Mitchell Jr. (1863–1929)

John Mitchell Jr. was a prominent newspaper editor, politician, banker, and civil rights activist. Born enslaved near Richmond, Mitchell attended the Richmond Colored Normal School and taught for a year before he and other black teachers were fired by a new Democratic school board. He then went into journalism, in 1884 becoming editor of the Richmond Planet, an African American weekly newspaper. Mitchell used the Planet to promote civil rights, racial justice, and racial pride. As an editor and an activist, he became a key figure in the antilynching movement and played an instrumental role in organizing the Richmond streetcar boycott of 1904. Mitchell’s bold protest against racial injustice, which at times included calls to take up arms in self-defense, earned him his reputation as “the Fighting Editor.” In addition to his work on the Richmond Planet, Mitchell served on the Richmond city council from 1888 to 1896 before founding the Mechanics Savings Bank in 1901. His work at the bank brought him more into the political and social mainstream but its collapse in 1922 led him to be convicted on charges of fraud and theft. The conviction was later overturned but left him destitute. When the state Republican Party excluded most black delegates from its convention, Mitchell unsuccessfully ran for governor on a “Lily Black” ticket. He remained editor of the Richmond Planet until his death in 1929.