There is a "new" web site maintained by the Library of Congress that provides access (and an easily searchable index) to four Richmond newspapers from a century ago - as well to nearly 50 other newspapers from across the United States. The site is called Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. They recently added the Richmond Planet to their list of available newspapers to search and read. I have to thank Catherine Easterling, a city planner for the City of Richmond, for letting me know about this site.
The Richmond Planet (1883-1945) was the most successful Richmond African American newspaper of the last century. From 1884 through 1929 the paper was edited by John Mitchell, Jr. , a crusader in the battle for equal rights for African Americans in Virginia. For more information about the Planet and Mitchell, visit this excellent online exhibit created by the Library of Virginia.
Just as an example of what one may find at Chronicling America, I am including a few images from the site in this posting. It features an article (and images) about the proposed Southern Aid Society building from the April 13, 1907 issue.
I first did a search within the index of the Richmond Planet for the word "architect." The front page image of the April 13, 1907 issue appeared (along with a few others that mentioned the word "architect."). I then just clicked on the image and was able to enlarge the view and read the articles.
The article included an image of John A. Lankford (1874-1946), the first professionally licensed African American architect in Virginia (in 1922) and in the District of Columbia (in 1924) where his office were based.
He was the supervising architect for the . His work in Richmond is documented in the book Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia (2006) by architectural historian Selden Richardson. A.M.E. Church
The article also included a wonderful image of the proposed new building for the Southern Aid Society, a Richmond insurance firm based in Jackson Ward. The company was considered the first African American insurance company in the South - more about them Here. Their records are kept at the Library of Virginia.
Click on the image for a larger view.
The text of the article. Click on the image for a larger view.
Postcard view of the Southern Aid Society of Virginia, Inc., postmarked 1914.
The Southern Aid Society building that was built in 1908 stood at 527 N. 2nd Street and was designed by John A. Lankford. The building is considered, according to Selden Richardson (Built By Blacks...), "the first exclusively African American office building in the country, being the result of a collaboration between a black patron, architect, and contractor." Like many buildings that once stood in Jackson Ward, it was demolished.
Why was the first proposed version of this building not built? Maybe the elaborate three story design was too costly for the Southern Aid Society to afford and so they settled for a less ornate, two story building. Maybe I should search Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers site and find out!
- Ray Bonis