Richmond Planet license plate, with its symbol of Black empowerment, may be ready to go July 1

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 3/3/2022, 6 p.m.
A tribute to Black empowerment will be on display on a Virginia license plate for the first time.

A tribute to Black empowerment will be on display on a Virginia license plate for the first time.

By overwhelming majorities, the state House of Delegates and Senate have authorized the production of a state license plate bearing a flexed Black bicep surrounded by thunderbolts radiating from a clenched fist.

Known as the “Strong Arm,” this was the logo of the Richmond Planet, a weekly newspaper started in Richmond in 1882 by 13 formerly enslaved men. The paper later merged with the Baltimore-based Afro-American newspaper chain in 1938 to become known as the Afro-American and Richmond Planet.

Passage of the bill is a triumph for Richmond resident Reginald L. Carter. He led a successful social media campaign to generate the support of 450 vehicle owners willing to pre-order the plate recalling the Richmond Planet and its “fighting editor,” John Mitchell Jr., who led the paper for 45 years until his death in 1929.

Mr. Carter started the campaign out of admiration for Mr. Mitchell, who used his newspaper to fight lynching, promote Black pride and empowerment and advocate for racial justice at a time when state laws imposing strict racial separation were coming into force.

Mr. Mitchell organized a 1904 boycott that bankrupted Richmond’s streetcar line after segregated seating was imposed. He also founded a Richmond bank, served on the Richmond City Council and ran for governor in 1921 on the Lily Black ticket.

Early during his tenure as editor, Mr. Mitchell was described as “a man who, conscious of his own strength of manhood, dares to hurl the thunderbolts of truth into the ranks of the wicked – injustice a target for his unerring aim.”

He later adopted as the newspaper’s logo the bicep with the thunderbolts. Mr. Carter believed the license plate would be one way to remind people of the newspaper and its crusading leader. Richmond state Sen. Joseph D. “Joe” Morrissey submitted the legislation to authorize the license plate after Mr. Carter secured enough orders.

The bill passed 38-0 in the Senate and 100-0 in the House, according to the legislative information system, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin, whose signature on the measure will authorize the state Department of Motor Vehicles to produce the plate after July 1.

Mr. Carter also led a successful campaign to fund a historic marker for the lone lynching victim in Essex County where he was born and grew up. He also was a leader in a community drive to get the City Council in Tappahannock, the seat of Essex County, to approve removal of a Confederate statue that had long dominated the courthouse lawn.