Richmond Planet Lynching Article, January 4, 1890
The Richmond Planet was an African American weekly newspaper founded in 1883. It printed a variety of news stories on matters of importance to African Americans and campaigned against racial inequality and racial violence. This article, published in the January 4, 1890, issue of the Planet provides a listing of African Americans lynched in the South. Lynchings were the execution of an individual without the due process of the law for real or perceived crimes against the community-at-large. By late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century, lynching and other forms of racial violence were used by whites, especially in the South, to intimidate and control African Americans. John Mitchell Jr., the editor of the Planet beginning in 1884, was known as the “Fighting Editor” and printed stories about lynchings and other injustices towards blacks in an effort to make changes in Virginia society regarding race relations. While the incidents of organized, overt violence was lower, African Americans in Virginia still lived in daily fear of lynchings and other forms of mob violence.
The 1880s and 1890s were a time of intense racism and racial violence in much of the South. During this period, on average one black man was killed every two days by a lynching. The majority of whites worked to maintain their superiority by excluding African Americans from society by means of Jim Crow laws, segregating the races in most public places. Virginia reached its peak of racial violence early in the 1890s. At that time, Governor Philip W. McKinney tried to segregate trains in the state and did not officially condemn mob violence. During the four years when he was governor of Virginia, from 1890 to 1894, twenty-two blacks were lynched. Despite the difficult situation for blacks in Virginia, the state had the fewest lynchings of any southern state between 1880 and 1930.
McKinney's successor, Governor Charles T. O'Ferrall, was more sensitive to the race situation in the state and worked to protect African Americans in Virginia. O'Ferrall used the Virginia militia to protect black protestors, and was praised by the African American community, including John Mitchell, for his efforts. O'Ferrall's efforts to protect blacks within the state's legal system were fueled in part, by a desire to preserve white superiority over nonwhites, which he hoped the state's African Americans would accept as unavoidable. Despite O'Ferrall's record, African Americans in Virginia continued to be harassed with threats of violence.
Referring to himself as a “race man,” John Mitchell worked to improve the lives of African Americans in Virginia in all of his endeavors. He publicly fought against lynching, segregation, and disenfranchisement throughout his forty-five years as editor of the Planet, holding protests and publishing articles advancing his causes. As a result, the Planet gained a national reputation for promoting racial justice.
More than 4,000 people were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968. Nearly three-quarters of those victims were African Americans. White newspapers often published the graphic details of lynchings during the final years of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. Salacious depictions of lynchings were used to draw readers into the newspapers, as well as to warn African Africans of the consequences of straying from the racial norms of the day. African American editors like Mitchell began to speak out against racial violence by late in the 1800s and early in the 1900s. They were joined by some prominent white newspaper editors in their criticism. Such criticism could prove dangerous. Mitchell was threatened with lynching for his efforts against mob violence. Undeterred, he continued to publish tallies of lynching victims, also with graphic photographs and descriptions, including drawings and other artwork that he personally prepared.
1. Who was John Mitchell Jr.?
2. What were race relations like in Virginia late in the 1800s as compared to other southern states?
3. How did the media depict lynchings?
4. What were some of the consequences of racial violence's being depicted in this way?
1. The 1964 Civil Rights Act made racial segregation illegal and created specified penalties for people who tried to harm others who were protecting their civil rights. Despite this, racial violence continued across many areas of the South and continued to be examined by the media. Research racial violence in Virginia after 1964. How was this different from the acts of violence seen before? How did the media cover these incidences after the Civil Rights Act was passed?
Alexander, Ann Field. Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the “Fighting Editor” John Mitchell Jr. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002.
Brundage, W. Fitzhugh. Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Perloff, Richard M. “The Press and Lynchings of African Americans.” Journal of Black Studies 30, no. 3 (January 2000): 315–330.