One of Nashville’s most well-known historians, and a longtime administrator at Fisk University, has died at age 72.
Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell Jr. was a 1969 Fisk graduate who joined the faculty in 1980 and served multiple administrative roles. He was most recently dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Social Sciences.
Starting in 2015, Mitchell was chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which announced his passing this week. The commission describes Mitchell as a “consummate scholar, gentleman and proud Tennessean.”
“Dr. Mitchell’s tenure as chairman was one of steady and admirable leadership through sometimes challenging circumstances,” wrote commission Executive Director Patrick McIntyre.
Mitchell began his time with commission in 1999 and helped propel a decades-long push to add more markers about black history, as well as markers documenting troubling incidents and institutions. In 2018, he spoke at the unveiling of a marker for Nashville’s slave market:
“Markers should not be simply to honor heroic individuals. Markers should not be to honor those who are famous or who want to be famous. Markers ought to reflect the true reality of history,” Mitchell said that day.
Mitchell, a Nashville native, authored a history of Fisk. He was widely published and quoted in local and national media. And a university biography notes that he consulted on documentary films about black figures from Nashville history.
Mitchell was married to local psychologist Patricia Mitchell and had four sons. A cause of death has not been provided.