Lynchings, unjust sentences, and prejudiced laws faced African Americans at the turn of the century. White Americans did not see African Americans as their equals and treated them unjustly. The opposition caused the black community to change, leading it to becoming more cohesive. In 1900, The Richmond Planet acted as a facilitator in bringing out the voice of the African American community.

Black Richmonders could plainly see how unfairly they were being treated. The line of segregation was made clear by the introduction of the “Jim Crow Car Bill,” which prompted action from the African American community. The bill called for “separate coaches over the railroads of this state,” which “is certainly contrary to the law and spirit of said Constitution.” Editor John Mitchell Jr. asked “What justice is there in putting railroads to an expense in furnishing separate coaches for persons of color to ride it?” The question runs through the minds of the members of the black community.  Though white and black Virginians live side by side daily, the bill covers black people in a blanket of “humiliation.”

Mitchell wrote to expose the false façade of equal criminal justice. When Albert Hawkins, a fifteen-year-old boy, was accused of raping a girl and sentenced to death, Mitchell cited evidence showing that the girl was never harmed.  The black boy was sentenced to death because white Americans “thirsted for his blood.”  The Richmond Planet aimed to expose such cases and sometimes succeeded. Legislation aimed against African Americans began “damaging” “the white man” because lower-class white Americans were now on the same level as blacks. Mitchell was angered that white Americans could hire black women to take care of their children but would not want to sit in the same coach with them. Officers, their job to protect the public, would not always step in and protect the black man. Such a thing is seen in the case of Sheriff Freeman, who disobeyed his orders and allowed a mob of white people to burn him at the stake. The oaths behind the criminal justice system were trampled on and the black man was alone.

The Richmond Planet displayed a table through every issue, titled “The Reign of Lawlessness,” that recorded lynchings around the country. A total of 397 lynchings occurred in 1897. The table serves as a reminder for all those reading The Planet of all the hurt that the black community has faced. Many crimes that were recorded had no charge indicated, but the race was almost always black. This injustice became to be treated as a norm, though Mitchell called attention to the cases where white men committed crimes. Frank Gilmore, for example, “criminally assaulted and brutally murdered” a 68-year-old woman. As punishment for his crime, he had his body “strung up to a beech-wood limb,” and then “riddled with bullets.” A punishment such as this was often reserved only for the black man.

The black community could see that their efforts were starting to pay off, and that they were gaining momentum on a broader scale with legislature and the political system beginning to lean their way.  In Springfield, Ohio, a group of black men started “The National Anti-Mob and Lynch-Law Association” and aimed to create a team in “every state of this union.” By December of 1900, the words “radical action” and “race war” were being talked about. The black community all over the nation was becoming fed up with the unjust lynchings and punishments.

The Car Bill prompted rebellion. In one example, a black man refused to ride in the same coach as white emigrants, and demanded a change of seat from the company. The company responded by giving him his “whole coach” and The Richmond Planet noted he “rode the distance with evident relish.”  The Virginia legislature began to hurt “the class of white men who are counted in from localities having black populations.” The Richmond Planet described the situation as “the mask [having] been thrown off,” and that “disfranchising the Negro is [now a] secondary” matter.  Officer Fulgham, knew of a mob coming for a black prisoner accused of assaulting a young girl. The officer stood his ground and tried to stop the mob from taking the man to be lynched. On another matter, the National Republican Convention showed the efforts of the African American community coming together to create change. The Convention was found to have produced “one of the most remarkable documents” that is “especially gratifying to colored citizens,” standing against the Democratic Party’s view of “disfranchising colored citizens.”  Mitchell proclaimed it “one of the best campaign documents of the century.” He was also happy to see “a net Republican gain of 5” districts for Republicans. The Republican Party gained a way to make their voice louder, giving the black man a voice.

The year of 1900 was filled with the black community coming together to make change happen.  African Americans had to deal with unjust court systems, with white Americans refusing to accept that they already lived side by side and there was no need to keep separation alive. John Mitchell often highlighted the negative aspects and acts within the white community while he brought forward the acts of the white people who were looking to change the community and advocate for the black person. Mitchell included highlights of black advancement, from the inventions of black scientists to a summary of the increase of jobs and education the black community has achieved. In 1900, the black community came together to jump over the hurdles of injustice and inequality and work to tear them down. Their efforts were seen, little by little, but they were seen.

Elizabeth Lopez