African Americans had a reason to be disillusioned with both political parties early in the twentieth century. Virginia's Democrats at the Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902 disenfranchised a large portion of the state's black men as well as many thousands of poor white voters. In 1912 Virginia native Woodrow Wilson was elected president and under his sanction many government offices in Washington D.C. were segregated and African Americans lost federal positions across the country. By then, most southern white Republicans had little interest in black voters, who were not numerous enough to help them win elections, and Democrats routinely mounted successful attacks against Republicans who sought African American support.
These changes in the Republican Party were evident in Virginia. Congressman C. Bascom Slemp, from southwestern Virginia, was one of the most influential southern Republicans. He believed that the Republican Party could not be viable in the Virginia until it was no longer identified as "the party of the Negro." This conclusion led to the exclusion of black voters from the state's Republican Convention in Roanoke in 1920, and at the 1921 convention in Norfolk African Americans were refused admittance to as spectators, and the party did not seat some black delegates. The party's nominee for governor Henry W. Anderson was committed to promoting a "lily-white" image.
John Mitchell Jr., since 1884 the editor of a Richmond African American newspaper the Planet, argued that black voters were faced with three options. They could boycott the election and not vote at all. They could support the Democratic candidate, E. Lee Trinkle. They could nominate their own candidate. Mitchell opted for the third choice after being offered the top position. On September 5, 1921, a convention of about 600 black delegates in Richmond officially nominated an all-black Republican ticket. John Mitchell Jr. was the nominee for governor, Theodore Nash of Portsmouth for lieutenant governor, Maggie L. Walker of Richmond for the superintendent of public instruction, Joseph Thomas Newsome of Newport News for attorney general, Thomas E. Jackson of Staunton for treasurer, F. V. Bacchus of Lynchburg for secretary of the commonwealth, J. L Reed of Roanoke for State Corporation Commissioner, and A. P. Brickhouse of Northampton County for commissioner of agriculture. At the convention, Mitchell refused the label "lily-black," to describe the ticket, and sought support from Republicans from both races. He insisted that he, not Anderson, was the true candidate for the Republican Party.
Not all black Virginians supported the ticket. P. B. Young, editor of the Norfolk Guide and Journal, refused the nomination for lieutenant governor, spoke out against the third party, and criticized his old rival, Mitchell, during the campaign. Young feared that an all-black ticket could result in as much racial strife as an all-white one. Young publicly supported Trinkle. As his candidacy was a largely symbolic move, Mitchell did little campaigning and finished a distant third in the election. Following the loss, Mitchell sent Trinkle a congratulatory telegram, and subsequently, Trinkle had a good working relationship with both Mitchell and Maggie Walker. After Trinkle's term, there were rumors that the "lily-black" ticket had been a Democratic invention, motivated by a feared renewal of the Republican Party, but there is no firm evidence of Democratic connivance to split black and white Republicans. The split within the Republican Party created divisions among African American voters. The lily-white stance of the Republican Party forced these voters to reevaluate their traditional party loyalty. As a result, throughout the 1920s African Americans began to align themselves with the Democrats.
1. Why did John Mitchell Jr. decide to run for governor of Virginia in 1921?
2. Why did white Virginians refer to the Mitchell ticket as the "Lily Black" ticket?
3. What arguments did P. B. Young make against the Mitchell gubernatorial ticket?
1. If Mitchell acknowledged that a vote for his campaign equaled a vote for Trinkle, why did he run? Was this a sound strategy?
2. African Americans in Virginia began to vote more regularly with the Democratic Party following this election. Why?
Smith, J. Douglas. Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Alexander, Ann Field. Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the "Fighting Editor" John Mitchell Jr. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002.