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Broadcast legend ‘Tiger Tom’ Mitchell dies

Jeremy Lazarus | 7/14/2017, 7:52 a.m.
“Tiger Tom” Mitchell built his life on the spoken and written word. For more than 30 years, the celebrated broadcaster ...
‘Tiger Tom’ Mitchell

Rejected because of a football injury, he served in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Mecklenburg and then resumed his work in journalism.

During World War II, he covered entertainment for the Norfolk Journal & Guide before returning to Richmond to report on the police beat at The Afro.

For Mr. Mitchell, the most notable story he covered was the high-profile case of the Martinsville 7, the seven young men who were convicted in 1949 of raping a white woman in that Virginia community and later executed in 1951 despite an international outcry over the blatant racism at the trial and the verdict.

“My father was in contact with the relatives of the men,” his son said. “He was always very passionate about the injustice in that case. To him, justice always was unequal in this country.”

Still, Mr. Mitchell remained a pragmatic optimist, always believing that everything could work out as long as journalists were present to “report the truth,” his son said.

Mr. Mitchell got his start in radio in 1937, working part-time for a Richmond station and continued to work part-time on and off. In 1951, he was one of the original on-air staff when WANT went on the air. The call letters stood for “With All Negro Talent.”

At the time, he also was working as the editor and writer for the Virginia Journal, the magazine of the Virginia Teacher’s Association, which represented African-American teachers during the era of segregation and drew 7,000 teachers to its annual conventions. The VTA later merged with the Virginia Education Association.

In 1959, he left the VTA to become a full-time staff member at WANT. He retired in 1982 after the sale of the station, which, along with other AM outlets, was quickly being eclipsed by fast-growing FM stations.

Along with his radio work, he also helped to bring James Brown and other gospel, jazz and R&B shows to the city with his sideline as a concert promoter and city representative for various tours.

In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth “Bette” Mitchell; another son, Cary Mitchell, a custom tailor in Charlotte, N.C.; and one grandchild.