Proposed license plate honoring crusading African American paper clears Senate

By: - February 15, 2022 12:10 am

Legislation creating a license plate to honor the Richmond Planet, an early African American newspaper, is making its way through the General Assembly. (Submitted)

A new license plate could be added this summer to the more than 250 options Virginians can choose from if the House of Delegates passes and the governor signs a bill to introduce the design commemorating a newspaper founded by emancipated men.

The bill to create a license plate in honor of the Richmond Planet passed the Senate unanimously last week. Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, introduced the bill on Jan. 21 with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, as a cosponsor. However, the effort to increase awareness of the history of the pioneering Black newspaper started last year when Tappahannock native Reginald Carter started gathering the 450 preorders needed to kickstart the process before the General Assembly’s session began.

“It was definitely a sigh of relief,” Carter said of his reaction to the bill passing the Senate. “You know, sad that we’re not done, but this is a major step in the process that has been achieved.”

The Richmond Planet caught Carter’s attention while he conducted research with a Tappahanock genealogy society to tell the story of a lynching that took place in the area on March 23, 1896. That’s when he encountered articles by John Mitchell Jr., the editor and publisher of the newspaper who had been born into slavery and became an advocate for civil rights in Richmond and elsewhere in Virginia.

The flag of the Richmond Planet newspaper from the Aug. 13, 1898 edition. (Library of Virginia)

Carter said he wanted an eye-catching avenue to encourage people to look into Mitchell and the newspaper’s influence in Virginia.

But Carter has not been alone in his efforts. He has had the support of the editor’s great-great-nephew John Mitchell, who plans on speaking at the House of Delegates when the bill is up for consideration.

“It’s not just about John Mitchell Jr. The Richmond Planet was an amalgamation of a whole lot of people working together,” Mitchell said.

Although Carter said the mockup of the plate he uses has been effective at garnering support from the community, it won’t be the final design as the flexed bicep behind the letters can obstruct the visibility of the plate number.

Morrissey expects that the bill will pass as swiftly through the House as it did the Senate, he said.

“The plate says we admire, we respect and we acknowledge the accomplishments of this newspaper, and all of the things that it did to not only highlight the accomplishments of the African American community but also to underscore some of the great tragedies that the African American community sustained,” Morrissey said.

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Virginia Mercury intern Jackie Llanos Hernandez is a junior at the University of Richmond studying journalism and anthropology. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian. She can be reached at [email protected]