Civil rights advocate and friend of the Pilgrimage, Dr. Reavis Mitchell, passes at 72.

Dr. Reavis Mitchell meets with our Spring 2017 cohort at Fisk University.

One of Nashville’s most well-known historians, and a longtime administrator at Fisk University, has died at age 72. Dr. Reavis Mitchell was a civil rights advocate and dear friend of the Pilgrimage.

Starting in 2015, Dr. 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.”

A 1969 Fisk graduate, Dr. Mitchell joined the faculty in 1980 and served multiple administrative roles. He was most recently dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Social Sciences.

Dr. Mitchell helped propel a decades-long push to add more markers about Black history, as well as markers documenting racist 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,” –

A Nashville native, he authored an authoritative history of Fisk University. He was widely published and quoted in local and national media, and a cherished member of the Pilgrimage community.

Sean Greenlee and Pamela Banks present Dr. Mtchell with a gift of gratitude in 2017.

Executive Director of Project Pilgrimage, Felicia Ishino had this to say about Dr. Mitchell, “We visited Dr. Mitchell at Fisk on four Pilgrimages. Each time, it was abundantly clear to me that his commitment to history and the student experience at HBCU’s like Fisk was unmatched. We will miss his presence and will carry on his legacy.”

Dr. Mitchell was married to Nashville psychologist Patricia Mitchell and had four sons. Fisk University invites you to honor the legacy of Dr. Reavis Mitchell ’69 by supporting the Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell Jr. PeyBack Endowed Scholarship.

Lynching: Then and Now

An Evening with Dr. Terry Anne Scott

Top: Henry Smith in Paris, TX (1893) / Bottom: George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN (2020)

It is no coincidence that the United States has arrived at this moment in time. Amidst the surge in the continued struggle for Black liberation in America, it is vital that we understand how this country’s long history of racial injustice has shaped the system and narrative we find ourselves in today. Context matters.

Project Pilgrimage invites our community to join us for an evening with our resident historian, Dr. Terry Anne Scott on Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 at 5 p.m. (PST). RSVP here for the event link. This virtual lecture presentation will focus on the history of systemic racism and racial terrorism against Black people in America. We’ll explore how these same structures continue to reinforce modern oppression and racist systems.

Dr. Scott is an associate professor of American history and the Director of African American Studies at Hood College. Her interests focus largely on urban history, the intersection of sports and race, African American social and cultural history, and political and social movements. Dr. Scott recently completed a new work entitled Lynching and Leisure: Race and the Transformation of Mob Violence in Texas, currently under review. She is heavily involved in community service, social activism, and serves as our historian “on the bus” for Pilgrimage trips in the South.

A suggested donation of $5 is requested. RSVP here for the event link!

WORDS by Davon White

(L to R) Bob Zellner, Bernard Lafayette, Kate Lafayette, Davon White

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve struggled with how America has shown up in response to racial injustice and police brutality.

I’ve tried to process and reflect internally, but in doing so, I have noticed myself bottling up more than I can handle. It is my hope that my recent realizations as a 23 year-old Black professional will shine some light for many of us.

After watching the video which nationally showcased the death of Ermias Asghedom as prime-time news, I knew I could no longer stomach watching death senselessly occur – especially the deaths of my fellow brothers, sisters, and heroes.

I’ll speak for myself when I say that as a Black man, I possess a sort of generational trauma that “takes me back” every time I HEAR of such videos. I don’t need to watch footage of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant… and the many others to be overwhelmed with a sense of mourning.

Despite the diaspora, we are still very much connected to one another. I have no choice but to put myself in their shoes.

Their spilled blood felt like my very own. Leaving me feeling physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually drained.

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Juneteenth Celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900

Most people assume that slavery ended with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, an assumption that is an enduring falsehood. It is sufficient to note that freedom did not come in a singular moment with the swift penning of a well-intentioned dictate. Freedom, instead, was a process, one fueled initially by self-emancipatory efforts. Of the nearly four million African Americans enslaved by the eve of the Civil War in 1861, more than 500,000 would risk their lives and abscond from their places of enslavement to find freedom anywhere—from the treacherous marshlands of the Mississippi River Delta to the bustling urban centers of Canadian territories, or the subjective security of Union strongholds.

They left on their own volition and altered the very aim of the federal government, an aim that shifted from one defined by the preservation of the union to one that privileged freedom over slavery. In April 1865, the surrender of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee and his army at Virginia’s Appomattox Courthouse, together with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by the United States Senate, ushered in the official end of slavery—for most. Enslaved African Americans in Texas would find a more challenging path to freedom, one that would lead to the creation of a widely celebrated and frequently misunderstood holiday—Juneteenth.

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