A lynching had taken place at a crossroads in Charlotte County in rural Southside Virginia in May 1886, an event brushed aside in the white press, but taken up in a blistering editorial by Mitchell in the Planet. In response, the journalist received a threatening—and anonymous—letter from Southside with a skull and crossbones on the envelope and the following message: “If you poke that infernal head of yours in this county long enough for us to do it we will hang you higher than he was hung.”Among other things, Mitchell understood the genuine worth of the right to bear arms:
Mitchell printed the letter in his newspaper and added his own response, which he based on a quote from Shakespeare: “There are no terrors, Cassius, in your threats, for I am armed so strong in honesty that they pass me by like the idle winds, which I respect not.” He traveled to the scene of the barbaric crime—walking five miles in plain sight to get there—then strolled around the neighborhood and visited the jail from which the black man had been kidnapped. All the while wearing a pair of Smith & Wesson revolvers. “The cowardly letter writer was nowhere in evidence,” Mitchell later reported.
What Mitchell was demanding was basic human decency and justice for African Americans. He espoused middle-class principles of sober hard work and dignified behavior. “Respect white men, but do not grovel,” he wrote. “Hold your heads up. Be men!” But, in the pages of his newspaper, beneath its powerful logo of a flexed, muscular black arm with lightning bolts radiating out of its clenched fist, Mitchell issued some galvanizing opinions of his own. “We regret the necessity,” he wrote, “but if the government will not stop the killing of black men, we must stop it ourselves.” He believed that self-defense was called for when one was under attack: “The best remedy for a lyncher or a cursed mid-night rider is a 16-shot Winchester rifle in the hands of a dead-shot Negro who has nerve enough to pull the trigger.”Compare with race-hustling frauds like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.