Richmond’s forgotten civil rights pioneer gets new gravestone

Posted at 12:44 AM, Feb 25, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-27 00:23:39-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - John Mitchell Jr. is probably the most important figure in Richmond history that most people have never heard about.

John Mitchell Jr., the former slave turned newspaper editor, paved the way for generations of African Americans.

Now, 80 years after his death, a group made up of Mitchell descendants and historians are replacing the gravestone stolen decades ago at his burial site in Richmond's Evergreen cemetery.

A dedication for Mitchell's new grave marker, just a few feet away from Maggie Walker`s final resting place, took place Saturday at 11 a.m. at Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond`s East End.

Family members, historians, and city leaders were on hand for the dedication, which was open to the public.

"I think that Mitchell is really one of the unsung major figure of Richmond's history," said Selden Richardson , a local historian.

Mitchell championed civil rights and railed against lynching in the pages of African American newspaper, The Planet. [SPECIAL REPORT: Watch Greg McQuade's profile of Mitchell]

"He is defiantly is someone who is worth discovering, worth reading about," said The Black History Museum's Dr. Maureen Elgersman Lee. "I think John Mitchell is really one of those individuals who straddles very some important eras."

Until recently, John Mitchell Jr. had largely forgotten in a city that embraces its past.

You haven't been able to find a monument -- or even a tombstone -- dedicated to this trailblazer until now.

"In Mitchell's case it is a grave injustice that not only is he not recognized but that his grave isn't marked," said. Richardson. "I think that there's something about an unmarked grave that is a basically unsettling to people."

Now, 83 years after his death, Mitchell is getting the recognition that, for the most part, has eluded him.

A group made up of Mitchell descendants and historians replaced the gravestone stolen decades ago at his burial site in Richmond's Evergreen cemetery.

"He's finally getting a grave marker. We don't know how long he's been without one," said Richardson. "I thought this was a fundamental wrong that we could correct as a city."

Richardson, who helped spearhead the marker movement more than a year ago, says this is long overdue.

"I think his role and his influence has been long neglected. Hopefully we'll hear more about him and appreciate the man."