Hidden History: Richmond native and black newspaper editor fought for freedom

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond native and courageous black newspaper editor believed in the freedom and power of the press. His name was John Mitchell Jr. and he would put his own life on the line to preserve his freedom.

Two generations of Mitchells, 100-year-old Tiger Mitchell and his son John, nephews of the late newspaper editor, recall his fearless life story.

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“He was born right before slavery ended,” T. Mitchell said. “But then as he was growing up, you are free and you could do whatever you want.”

Whenever Jim Crow flexed it’s hateful and violent muscles and stood in the way of freedom, J. Mitchell flexed right back through his editorial pages of the black newspaper called ‘The Richmond Planet.’

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Raymond Hylton, a Virginia Union University history professor, said J. Mitchell was an editor during our nation’s darkest times.

“You need somebody that was fearless even in the worst of times,” Hylton said. “More lynchings took place then than during that time of slavery. It took a lot of courage because he was literally in danger.”

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Not only did J. Mitchell report the lynchings, he let the world know what he thought about the people who carried out the murders.

J. Mitchell was described as constantly fearless. He wanted to investigate the mob lynching of a man in Charlotte in 1886, the folks in that community sent J. Mitchell a rope and note saying he would also be lynched if he stepped foot in the county.

Word is that J. Mitchell grabbed his two pistols, caught a train from Richmond to Smithville and walked 5 miles to the site of the hanging.

J. Mitchell’s fiery spirit even led him to take on a Richmond trolley system that practiced segregation.

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J. Mitchell was also politically active, he represented the Jackson Ward community on City Council. He also ran for Governor but lost the election.

In his latter years with a kidney disease, J. Mitchell probably knew that he was dying. He collapsed at his newspaper office on Dec. 3, 1929.

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