Education from LVA

John Mitchell's Candidacy for Governor

  • The <em>Richmond Planet</em> Announced John Mitchell's Candidacy for Governor, September 10, 1921
  • The <em>Richmond Planet</em> Announced John Mitchell's Candidacy for Governor, September 10, 1921
In 1921 John Mitchell and Maggie Lena Walker ran on a "Lily Black" ticket for Virginia state offices in response to an all-white Republican ticket.
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The Richmond Planet Announced John Mitchell's Candidacy for Governor, September 10, 1921

African Americans had a reason to be disillusioned with both political parties early in the twentieth century. Virginia's Democrats at the Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902 disenfranchised a large portion of the state's black men as well as many thousands of poor white voters. In 1912 Virginia native Woodrow Wilson was elected president and under his sanction many government offices in Washington D.C. were segregated and African Americans lost federal positions across the country. By then, most southern white Republicans had little interest in black voters, who were not numerous enough to help them win elections, and Democrats routinely mounted successful attacks against Republicans who sought African American support.

These changes in the Republican Party were evident in Virginia. Congressman C. Bascom Slemp, from southwestern Virginia, was one of the most influential southern Republicans. He believed that the Republican Party could not be viable in the Virginia until it was no longer identified as "the party of the Negro." This conclusion led to the exclusion of black voters from the state's Republican Convention in Roanoke in 1920, and at the 1921 convention in Norfolk African Americans were refused admittance to as spectators, and the party did not seat some black delegates. The party's nominee for governor Henry W. Anderson was committed to promoting a "lily-white" image.

John Mitchell Jr., since 1884 the editor of a Richmond African American newspaper the Planet, argued that black voters were faced with three options. They could boycott the election and not vote at all. They could support the Democratic candidate, E. Lee Trinkle. They could nominate their own candidate. Mitchell opted for the third choice after being offered the top position. On September 5, 1921, a convention of about 600 black delegates in Richmond officially nominated an all-black Republican ticket. John Mitchell Jr. was the nominee for governor, Theodore Nash of Portsmouth for lieutenant governor, Maggie L. Walker of Richmond for the superintendent of public instruction, Joseph Thomas Newsome of Newport News for attorney general, Thomas E. Jackson of Staunton for treasurer, F. V. Bacchus of Lynchburg for secretary of the commonwealth, J. L Reed of Roanoke for State Corporation Commissioner, and A. P. Brickhouse of Northampton County for commissioner of agriculture. At the convention, Mitchell refused the label "lily-black," to describe the ticket, and sought support from Republicans from both races. He insisted that he, not Anderson, was the true candidate for the Republican Party.

Not all black Virginians supported the ticket. P. B. Young, editor of the Norfolk Guide and Journal, refused the nomination for lieutenant governor, spoke out against the third party, and criticized his old rival, Mitchell, during the campaign. Young feared that an all-black ticket could result in as much racial strife as an all-white one. Young publicly supported Trinkle. As his candidacy was a largely symbolic move, Mitchell did little campaigning and finished a distant third in the election. Following the loss, Mitchell sent Trinkle a congratulatory telegram, and subsequently, Trinkle had a good working relationship with both Mitchell and Maggie Walker. After Trinkle's term, there were rumors that the "lily-black" ticket had been a Democratic invention, motivated by a feared renewal of the Republican Party, but there is no firm evidence of Democratic connivance to split black and white Republicans. The split within the Republican Party created divisions among African American voters. The lily-white stance of the Republican Party forced these voters to reevaluate their traditional party loyalty. As a result, throughout the 1920s African Americans began to align themselves with the Democrats.

For Educators


1. Why did John Mitchell Jr. decide to run for governor of Virginia in 1921?

2. Why did white Virginians refer to the Mitchell ticket as the "Lily Black" ticket?

3. What arguments did P. B. Young make against the Mitchell gubernatorial ticket?

Further Discussion

1. If Mitchell acknowledged that a vote for his campaign equaled a vote for Trinkle, why did he run? Was this a sound strategy?

2. African Americans in Virginia began to vote more regularly with the Democratic Party following this election. Why?


Born in the Wake of Freedom: John Mitchell Jr. and the Richmond Planet

Suggested Reading

Smith, J. Douglas. Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Alexander, Ann Field. Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the "Fighting Editor" John Mitchell Jr. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002.

Republican Convention Nominates Strong Ticket.
Determined to Accept Gauge of Battle.


Vacancies Occurred to be Filled by the State Committee

[O]ne* of the most representative [con]ventions ever held by Republican [vote]rs convened in this city at the [Tru]e Reformers Hall, Monday, Sep[tem]ber 5, 1921. Nearly 600 dele[gate]s were present and in the hall, [bann]ers were displayed from every [Dist]rict in the State. Representa[tive]s sat under each one of these.
[St]ate Chairman J. R. Pollard [calle]d the body to order and W. B. [torn] Crowell, the well known Repub[lican] leader from Roanoke, Va. was [th]e temporary chariman** and later [the] temporary organization was made [perm]anent. Mr. H. H. Price was [secr]etary. Committees were appoint[ed a]nd the convention took a recess [until] 3 P. M.


[Th]e reports of the committees were [made]. The Committees on Nomina[tion] of Candidates named the fol[lowi]ng:
[Jo]hn Mitchell, Jr., Richmond, for [Gove]rnor; Theodore Nash, Ports[mout]h, Lieutenant-Governor; J.T. [New]some, Newport News, Attorney [Gene]ral; Thomas E. Jackson, Staun[ton], Treasurer; F. V. Bacchus, [Lync]hburg, Secretary of the Common[wealt]h; Mrs. Maggie L. Walker, [Rich]mond, Superintendent of Public [Instr]uction; J. L. Reed, Roanoke, [Corp]oration Commissioner; A. P. [Brick]house, Exmore, Commissioner [of A]griculture.
[J.] R. Pollard of Richmond was [nam]ed State Chairman. A resolu[tion] was adopted authorizing the [chair]man to call for a conference of [voti]ng colored Republicans in Wash[ingto]n at an early date.


[Th]e platform was unanimously [adopt]ed and read as follows:

[The] Committee on Platform J. Thos. [News]ome, chairman reported as the [torn]rm for the Republican party for [the s]tate of Virginia the edicts and [torn]ples which were unanimously [adopt]ed by the convention on motion [of Mr]. J.R. Pollard under second of [torn]te Glenn of the 3rd District [torn] platform reads as follows:


[The] Republican party of Virginia in [torn] convention assembled in the [City o]f Richmond, the 5th day of [Septem]ber 1921 having full faith and [confid]ence in the principles of Repub[licanis]m as declared by the the founders [of the] National Republican party, and [torn]ed by such leaders as Lincoln [Frede]rick Douglass, and the great [Mr.] Roosevelt pledges undivided al[legian]ce to those principles as the [torn]ck of our splendid institutions [torn] the only certain guarantee of [lib]erty and future security of all [pe]ople of this country in the un[certain] future that lies before us.


[We] hold that under a government [torn] the sovereign powers is lodged [torn] people and exercised by them [wit]h the elective franchise the [right t]o vote is inseparable from the [right t]o be voted for, and any attempt [to sepa]rate these prerogatives is a [torn]ous political heresay, contrary [to the] genius of our Republic form of [govern]ment and destructive of the [torn]nd aims of a free people.
[The] history of the colored people in [Virgini]a for the last 20 years attests [torn]t that they are by no means [torn] office seekers, and therefore, [den]ounce as a political subterfuge [the an]ouncement in the Republican [party] in which it attempts by [torn]o to assure the white elector[ate] it is opposed to Negro office [holders] and thereby in its efforts to gain the support of a certain element of the white electorate, offers a gratuitous insult to the colored electorate at large.
Recognizing the justice of the rule of the majority under a Republican form of Government we cheerfully subscribe to that rule, but at the same time we insist that the minority has rights which the majority under the Constitution, cannot deny and the citizen should not be deprived of any of the privileges vouch-safed him by the fundamental law both State and National, because he belongs to a group numerically less than another group of our citizenry, or because of race color, creed or religion.
We cannot believe that the great body of the God fearing men and women whose labors and sacrifices have made Virginia a distinguished member of the family of States will subscribe to the sophistry that a class of our citizens who wrought mightily for her development for 250 years and that too, without a single pay day shall be denied the right participate in the political affairs of the government and in party councils up on the untenable grounds that another group of citizens pays into the coffers of the State the greater part of its revenues.
We believe too that character and experience are necessary qualities to be possessed by anyone offering for the suffrage of the electorate, but we fail to see how one can ever demonstrate the excellence of his character who never gained experience in office which he is never aallowed to hold.
We condemn as utterly evasive and willfully misleading the attempt to confuse the participation of any group of people in politics with a desire to change the social understanding always existing between the races in this State and while we respectfully and unreservedly demand to be treated as other citizens with all the rights privileges and immunities accorded them, including the rights to vote and to be voted for still we resent the insinuation coming from certain sources that we desire or intend in anywise to disturb the very cordial relations existing bettween the best of both races in Virginia.
And, in things purely political we desire nothing but a reign of righteousness and reason and we feel that no group of men and women holding to the faith of Republicanism should be allowed to dominate nor should it be excluded as a mere expedient to deceive the Democratic party to obtain votes. No mere expediency however urgent the call for its exercise should be allowed to disturb the basic principles of the party.


The Republican party believes in the education of all the people under a compulsory system with better pay for teachers and longer terms for pupils in the rural districts while
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we take great pride in some of our institutions of learning especially the great University of Virginia and also Institutions of secondaary and high learning we still desire to see the College Department of the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute restored to the end that Negro boys and Negro girls may receive the highest culture so very essential to progressive leadership.


We favor the gradual reduction of taxation and a more equitable plan of assesscent so that all sections of the State shall bear their due proportions of the public debt and obligations. We shall therefore urge that at the earliest posible moment the Governor be directed by law to appoint a non-partisan commission of two experts to study tse whole question affecting our public revenues and taxes and to recommend such legislation as will guarantee ample funds to prosecute the public business and to meet the obligations incurred by the state with absolute fairness to all classes of our citizens.


In order to stimulate trade, encourage neighborly inter-course and spread general intelligence among the people we favor the building of the best highways through out the commonwealth and to that end we recommend the issuance of bonds of such small denominations as to enable the farmer, the laborer, and others of inconsiderable capital to participate in this patriotic enterprise.


We believe that the State owes a special duty to the farmers and to that end we recommend legislation that will give the department of Agriculture larger powers and better facilities for rendering the farmers substantial aid and encouragement.


We believe in a full development of the natural resources of the State without regard to section, and to that end we pledge ourselves to use every power at our command to bring to the attention of the whole people the great opportunities the state offers through her mines, fertile fields, and the development of the Hampton Roads to take her proper place in the front rank of the progressive states of the Union.


We believe it is no less the duty of the citizens to respect and uphold the majesty of the law when honestly administered through the orderly procedure of the Courts that it is for the Government to guarantee to one accused of crime a fair and impartial trial by jury of his peers.


Recognizing both capital and labor as essential to the prosperity and perpetuity of our state, we heartily recommend that laws shall be so enacted as to discriminate against neither of those great factors but will justly and impartially injure to the good of both.


While a member of the State Senate the late Hon. A. W. Harris a colored Republican from the city of Petersburg voted for a liberal pension for the soldiers taking the high ground that a solider under the command of superior officers and fighting for what he conceived to be a great principle should not go without support from the bounty of the state. We pledge ourselves therefore in the event of the election of of a republican ticket to it that all soldiers and their widows shall pass the few remaining days of their lives free from the sting of want.


Finally with a glorious history written in the past and with confidence in the future we submit our cause to the voters of Virginia, the man and the women, the white and the black, with the solemn promise that if elected to office we shall redeem every pledge herein made.


   J. THOS. NEWSOME, Newport News.
   P. A. SCOTT, Newport News.
   THEODORE N. NASH, Portsmouth.
   W. M. ELLIS, Staunton, Va
   REV. W. H. CRAWLEY, South Boston.