A former black community newspaper will be commemorated in a special license plate if Virginia House lawmakers give the bill final approval.
Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Richmond, introduced Senate Bill 753, which will authorize the issuance of a special license plate celebrating The Richmond Planet newspaper. Senate lawmakers passed the bill unanimously. The House Transportation Committee unanimously approved the measure on Thursday, and it will now be considered by the full House.
The Planet was founded in 1882 by 13 former slaves, mostly Virginia public school teachers, according to the Library of Congress. A black flexed bicep with shock waves emanating from the arm served as the masthead design. The same symbol and newspaper title will be incorporated into the license plate.
Edwin Archer Randolph, the first black man to graduate from Yale Law School, was the first editor of The Planet, according to the Library of Congress. Two years later, John Mitchell Jr. took over and ran The Planet for the next 45 years. Mitchell was considered the “combatant editor” for his fight against injustice through his work.
Reginald L. Carter initiated the effort to have the special plaque. He was looking for a license plate for his personal vehicle, but Carter said he wasn’t interested in the options available. He came up with the idea of creating a new plate to celebrate black excellence. Carter described the process as “tedious but not impossible.”
Carter said he has also worked on other projects in his hometown of Tappahannock. He worked to remove a Confederate statue, which the city council later voted to contextualize, and commemorate a lynched Essex County man with a highway marker.
Mitchell’s family supports the idea.
“His great, great-nephew, also named John Mitchell, serves on the board of the Richmond Planet Foundation,” Carter said. “They fully support the plate, so I couldn’t have asked for a better family or a better rep to develop a plate afterwards.”
The Planet covered local, national and global news. He fought for equal rights, education, voting and segregation, according to Black Virginia, a University of Richmond student project that highlighted the paper’s importance. The newspaper also offered advice and positive news.
The Planet was purchased in 1938 by The Baltimore Afro-American, according to the Library of Virginia.
Journalist Hazel Trice Edney previously worked for the Richmond Afro-American and Richmond Free Press newspapers. Edney said she conducted an independent study at Harvard University to compare the “editing” styles of Mitchell and Raymond Boone, who established the Richmond Free Press in 1992. Boone was known as a “crusader justice” and had a strong voice in the black community.
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“Having it on an established license plate in the former capital of the Confederacy and around the Commonwealth of Virginia indicates that we understand the fight that John Mitchell has undertaken,” Edney said.
Distribution and approval for use of the new license plate is based on the ability to acquire and submit at least 450 prepaid applications, according to the bill impact statement. Carter created an email where application and pre-order requests were sent.
Dream for a Purpose, a marketing agency, designed the plaque.
The JXN Project, an organization dedicated to preserving and explaining the Jackson Ward neighborhood’s central role as one of the nation’s first historically recorded black urban neighborhoods, supports Carter’s effort.
“We felt responsible for helping Reggie and his campaign become the first license plate of its kind,” Sesha Moon, executive director and research director of the JXN project, said in an email.
Carter worked tirelessly to collect signatures traveling throughout the state, according to Moon. He recruited Morrissey to present the legislation.
Mitchell’s great-great-grandnephew Carter and Morrissey spoke in favor of the bill during the Senate hearing. Morrisey reported earlier in the month that Carter had 497 prepaid orders for the plate.
The estimated cost is expected to be just over $16,000 and will require 218 hours of work, according to the bill’s impact study. Revenue from the cost of the plates – $10 for a standard plate and $20 for a custom plate – and future sales will cover the cost of implementation.
The plate can remain in production if 200 plates are issued within five years for the Department of Motor Vehicles to continue issuing plates, according to the Virginia Legislative Information System.
“My end goal is contextualization,” Carter said. “You can’t tell the American story without telling the African-American story, and you can’t tell the Virginia story without telling The Richmond Planet story or the John Mitchell story.”
This story was produced by the Capital News Service at Virginia Commonwealth University.