Cover photo for Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell, Jr.'s Obituary
Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell, Jr. Profile Photo

Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell, Jr.

July 12, 1947 — June 16, 2020

Dr. Reavis Mitchell, Jr. transitioned on June 16, 2020. Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell completed his earthly journey and was called home to be with the Lord, family, and friends on June 16, 2020 at his Brentwood, TN residence.

Dr. Mitchell was a proud native of Nashville, Tennessee. He began his educational journey at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School and graduated from Pearl High school in 1965. He would go on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University; a Master of Science degree from Tennessee State University; and a Doctor of Arts degree from Middle Tennessee State University. Additionally, he completed postdoctoral studies at Harvard University.

From 1980-2020, Dr. Mitchell served on the faculty at his beloved Fisk University, where he was a Professor of History. During his tenure, he held numerous administrative positions, including Director of Institutional Advancement, Executive Assistant to the President, Dean of Academic Affairs, and finally as Dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences, Professor Emeritus and University Historian Emeritus. Additionally, Dr. Mitchell held adjunct professorships at the College of St. Francis and Vanderbilt University. Dr. Mitchell loved the pursuit of knowledge and the opportunities it afforded to teach about the history, contributions, and impact of African Americans on American history. He saw these relationships as teachable moments that could be used to advance conversations on race and inclusion in our society.

As an academician, Dr. Mitchell provided the tools, nurturing, and mentorship necessary for students to excel in their educational pursuits and in life. The fruits of this philosophy of excellence produced over 50+ Doctor of Philosophy students under his tutelage. Dr. Mitchell was proud of this accomplishment but even more proud of the African American men and women who went on to academic and professional careers with a Fisk University education as their foundation. Dr. Mitchell’s love for Fisk University and its place as a preeminent destination for education were always evident in his conversations and tangible actions to improve the University and experiences for its faculty, staff, and students.

Dr. Mitchell served as one of the principal organizers of the Nashville Conference on African American History and Culture. Over the past 20 years, he published several profiles in the conference proceedings, “Leaders of Afro-American Nashville.” Additionally, he authored Thy Loyal Children Make Their Way: A History of Fisk University Since 1866 and along with Nashville historian Dr. Bobby Lovett he co-authored “Of Promises Kept: A History of Nashville’s Citizens Bank,” twelve entries in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History of Culture and hundreds of historical monographs in journals, magazines, and newspapers. Based on his highly regarded reputation among historians of African American History, Dr. Mitchell was invited to contribute a chapter to the highly influential book The Souls of Black Folk: One Hundred Years Later entitled “Alexandria, Tennessee: Slumbering in the Shadow of Progress.”

Dr. Mitchell was frequently sought out as an expert and consultant on projects related to African-American heritage and architecture. His comments were published in TIME, Ebony, Black Enterprise, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, and The Journal of Ethnic Studies. For two years he served as a historical consultant for the documentary film, “PBS: The American Experience,” a documentary highlighting the Fisk Jubilee Singers, produced by WGBH, Boston. He also served as consultant to Spark Media in Washington, D.C., for the documentary film, “Partners of the Heart,” a chronicle of the life of pioneering surgical research technician, Vivien T. Thomas. In 2010, Nashville Public Television asked Dr. Mitchell to serve as the primary consultant for a documentary “The Stieglitz Collection,” and Fisk University.

As the consummate public servant, Dr. Mitchell was a life-long member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. where he served two terms as the national historian, Vice-Chairman for Citizens Bank Board of Directors, member of Chi Boulé, member of the Knights of St. Peter Claver, and a faithful parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Parish. He served as Tennessee Historical Commission's (THC) Chairman since February of 2015, and was in the middle of his third consecutive term as chair. He was first appointed to the THC in 1999 by Gov. Don Sundquist, and was reappointed by Gov. Bredesen and Gov. Haslam. Dr. Mitchell was also a member and former chairman of the THC State Review Board, which helps recommend nominations for the National Register of Historic Places. He was first appointed to the State Review Board in 1993. At the time of Dr. Mitchell’s death, he was the second longest serving current member of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

In addition to numerous other personal and professional accolades accrued during his lifetime, Dr. Mitchell was first and foremost a family man and faithful community servant, who led with love. As a family man, he held his wife of fifty-one years, Dr. Patricia Mitchell, close to his heart. Their devotion to each other began as students at Pearl High School. In their union, they fostered a commitment to excellence in which they pushed each other and those around them to be and do their best in service to others. Collectively, Drs. Reavis & Patricia Mitchell’s union was anchored in a deep love and admiration of each other which they liberally shared with family and friends. He instilled in his four sons a love for family and the importance of sharing that love with others. His love of family and community always made those in need his first priority. Whether, Dr. Mitchell was in the role as a professor, historian, administrator, or public servant, he engaged all these roles with love.

With Dr. Mitchell’s transition from this earth to his heavenly home, he leaves a legacy of love that enriched Nashville, this nation, and the world. His love will live on in the stories to be told about his humility, empathy, selflessness, faith, and joy.

Dr. Mitchell was preceded in death by his parents Thelma and Reavis L. Mitchell, Sr. He leaves to celebrate his legacy, his loving wife, Dr. Patricia Mitchell, his adoring sons, Reavis Mitchell III, Dr. Roland Mitchell (Dr. Chaunda Allen Mitchell), Dr. Reagan Mitchell (Dr. Micha Rahder), and Roman Mitchell. Additionally, he is survived by his sisters, Deborah Gardner (Curtis Gardner) and Cheryl Guess (Deacon Harry Guess), his brother Ralph Mitchell, his grand-daughter Faith Allania Mitchell, and numerous nieces and nephews.


The Mitchell and Walker families would like to extend immense gratitude to: Dr. Marilyn Stovall and the Stovall family, Dewanda Anderson, Estarcia (Star) Floyd, Patricia Webb, Betty Baugh, Senita Sawyers, Erica Jackson, and Dr. Nishitha Reddy and The Vanderbilt Hematology Clinic for your unflinching willingness to provide love, guidance, and support during Dr. Mitchell’s transition. Please know that Dr. Mitchell, the Mitchell and Walker families, as Edward “Duke” Ellington would say, “Love you madly.”

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell, Jr., please visit our flower store.

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