Civil Rights Pioneer. Though born a slave he became one of the first Black newspaper editors in the United States, the first Black candidate for Governor of a southern state, and one of the first two Black bank presidents. The child of a family which remained as servants to their pre-Civil War master, Mitchell was educated in the same Richmond school system that produced Maggie Walker. After working as a teacher in the then-segregated schools he got his start in journalism by writing articles for the "New York Globe" then joined the staff of the "Richmond Planet", becoming its editor in December of 1884 and remaining in the job until his death. The demise of General Billy Mahone's Readjuster Party in the early 1880s paved the way for Jim Crow laws in Virginia and forced Mitchell to become an active reformer who was to crusade for better treatment of Blacks by the court system and for the end of lynching. Though well-known as a defender of his fellow blacks he supported anybody he considered unfairly oppressed, on one occasion intervening to stop the execution of a mentally incompetent 15 year old white boy accused of rape. In 1895 he organized a six month boycott of the segregated Richmond streetcars that bankrupted the trolley company. A successful politician he represented Jackson Ward, then called the 'Black Wall Street', on the Richmond Board of Aldermen for several years begining in 1892 and also served as a delegate to at least two Republican National Conventions during the era when Republican leadership in the Old South was largely black; in 1902 Mitchell founded and chartered the Mechanics' Savings Bank and was later the first Black man to address the American Bankers' Association. Thru his bank he ran the quasi-secret Knights of Pythias until regulation changes forced the separation of financial institutions from fraternal societies and along the way became quite wealthy, even owning some white neighborhoods in which he was not allowed to live. In 1921 Mitchell ran an unsuccessful campaign as a Republican to be Governor of Virginia; financial scandals clouded his final years with his bank going under in 1923 and at his death after collapsing in his office he was buried in an unmarked grave next to that of his mother. Today the Library of Virginia houses a large collection of material on his life and career. In 2012, through the efforts of volunteers from the Richmond Black History Project, Mr. Mitchell's grave finally was marked with an appropriate headstone. Looking back at his struggles he once said: "The best remedy for a lyncher or a cursed midnight rider is a 16-shot Winchester rifle in the hands of a dead-shot Negro who has nerve enough to pull the trigger".
Bio by: Bob Hufford