Mark E. Mitchell

Mark E. Mitchell, historian, advanced collector, speaker,  dealer, and appraiser, is considered to be one of the nation’s foremost authorities in the acquisition, research, marketing, and preservation of original African American manuscripts, letters, documents, artifacts, photographs, and books. He is one of the few nationally-recognized appraisers in the field of Black Americana, and a noted dealer in early American newspapers and United States coins. A popular speaker on African American History, Mark has delivered major addresses before the United Negro College Fund, Oakwood College faculty and students, the Newseum, the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and The National Press Club to name but a few. He has also made numerous appearances on national television, radio and in print media.

Areas of Expertise

Mark Mitchell is highly regarded by many of the nation’s most prestigious institutions. Since 1980, he has consulted with The Library of Congress–its leading authority has stated that Mark is “the person I turn to when I need additional expert opinion regarding the value, scarcity and authenticity of early newspapers and related documents and manuscripts.” Sotheby’s auction house regularly refers its inquiries concerning antique newspapers and African American historical documents and periodicals to Mark for authentication and appraisal. Likewise, Christie’s in New York has been quoted as saying that “….he is the expert in this area.”

Mark is a native of Washington, DC, and completed his undergraduate work at the University of Maryland. He is a retired Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and plays jazz saxophone and flute professionally.

The Collection

Assembled to be a largely visual, museum-quality collection of authentic artifacts and ephemera chronicling African American History, the Mark E. Mitchell Collection is considered one of the nation’s finest and most comprehensive private archives by such noted authorities as:

  • Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director, National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Yale Professor David W. Blight, Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition
  • Dr. James Oliver Horton, noted author and former George Washington University history professor, and
  • Wyatt Houston Day, nationally known collector, dealer and appraiser.

In 1991, Mark learned about educator Carter G. Woodson’s lifelong concern that African American History had become marginalized, revised, and, in most cases, omitted from the nation’s history curricula and textbooks. He decided to rectify this by creating a collection that in a virtual walk through time, would present the history of Africans in America by documenting and exhibiting their struggles, accomplishments, contributions, and courage spanning five centuries. Mark strongly believes this rich history can be an uplifting force for change and must be preserved, taught, and remembered so that African Americans can confront the myths and appreciate their identity and legacy.

Beginning in early 2001, Mark worked closely with Congressmen John R. Lewis and J.C. Watts, as well as Senators Sam Brownback and Max Cleland, to create both the impetus and legislation for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture that opened in September 2016. Original pieces from The Mitchell Collection were critical in stimulating the interest and action necessary to initiate the museum project.

‘A black history collection with a surprising collector’

Mark Mitchell’s life’s work has been dedicated to collecting the artifacts presented today. Read on to see his work recognized by the Washington Post.

“From every corner, the history thunders. Dances. Laughs out loud. It disturbs your peace.”

-Lonnae O’Neal Parker, The Washington Post

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The late Dr. Dorothy Height, President of the National Council of Negro Women, visits the Mitchell Collection, circa 2001

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Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Mark E. Mitchell, and (then) Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) at a private dinner on March 26, 2003, to celebrate the founding of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) that opened on Washington DC’s National Mall on September 24, 2016.

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Mark with Jazz Vocalist Nancy Wilson

Mark with Cameroon’s Minister of Culture and African permanent UN representatives at opening ceremonies for United Nation’s Transatlantic Slave Trade Exhibit, 2012.

Mark and Branford Marsalis

Mark at the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference in Bermuda, 2002

Mark on tenor saxophone with trumpeter Tommy Williams

Mark with actor Ben Vereen holding the original contract for what became “Roots”

Mark and Thelonious Monk, Jr.

Mark and Herbie Hancock

Mark, at far right, listens to Rep. John R. Lewis (D-GA), at NMAAHC dedication outside the U.S. Capitol in 2003, with pieces from his collection in background

Commander Mark Mitchell at the commissioning of the Coast Guard Cutter, “Alex Haley” (WMEC-39)

Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, stressing the depth and importance of Mark’s unique collection

Mark speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC

Mark in Feb. 2017 showing Wynton Marsalis two Louis Armstrong letters from 1932 and 1971, both described in the Arts & Music category