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First published in 1882, and founded by 13 former Richmond slaves, the Planet was initially edited by Edmund A. Randolph. Two years later, 21-year-old John Mitchell, Jr., succeeded Randolph and continued as editor for the next 45 years, until 1929. Mitchell wasted little time: he replaced much of the press equipment, contributed his own artwork to the paper’s always impressive design, and increased circulation to the point that the Planet eventually turned a modest profit. The Planet by 1904 had reached a weekly circulation of 4,200. The paper also quickly gained a reputation as a staunch defender of the African-American community and a voice against racial injustice—“daring to hurl thunderbolts of truth into the ranks of the wicked. . . . No stronger race man is known among us.”
The Planet covered local, national, and international news, especially focusing on segregation, the depredations of the Ku Klux Klan, voting rights, and the scourge of lynching. Mitchell—“courageous almost to a fault”—never wavered in his loud protests, even in the face of frequent death threats. He once armed himself and personally went to investigate a lynching.
Hoping to influence change from within, Mitchell rose to considerable prominence within banking circles as well as the Republican Party and served on the Richmond city council from 1888 to 1896. But he gradually lost faith in any chance of blacks and whites uniting politically or in the cause of labor solidarity. After the segregation of Richmond’s streetcar system in 1904, Mitchell’s frustration and anguish erupted—“Let us walk.” “A people,” he added, “who will willingly accept discrimination . . . are not sufficiently advanced to be entitled to the liberties of a free people.” It is not surprising then that in editorial after editorial Mitchell increasingly shunned the more moderate strategies of leaders such as Booker T. Washington. He thereafter repeatedly positioned the Planet as one the South’s most forceful black voices, even once advising blacks to arm themselves in self-defense. The Planet thus reached far beyond Richmond, achieving prominence—and a degree of notoriety—throughout the South.
After numerous legal battles over his ownership of the paper and his several business failures, Mitchell died in poverty in 1929. The Planet, however, continued until 1938, when it merged with the Afro-American.
Provided by: Library of Virginia; Richmond, VA