Throughout her long career as a high school art teacher, Corinne Howard Mitchell sought to highlight the thematic and technical spectrum of African American artists’ works. She dismissed the “buffoon type of work—work that shows African Americans as distorted human-figures,” in favor of variety. “I want to see all types of work by black artists, because they do all types—abstract, realistic, representational.”

One of eighteen children born to a family of tobacco farmers, young Corinne showed an early aptitude for art, often gifting guests to the Howard home with portraits. Determined to become a teacher, she first attended Virginia’s segregated normal school, Saint Paul's Polytechnic Institute, and earned an associate’s degree in 1935. As she established her teaching profession, Mitchell recognized her need for more advanced training in drawing and painting, and enrolled at Virginia State College for Negroes, graduating with a BA in 1951. It was there that her own art shifted, moving from traditional representationalism to “abstraction based on natural forms rendered with forceful color, executed in bold, impasto strokes.” In 1965, Mitchell completed her education with an MA from George Washington University.

As a teacher in the Montgomery County, Maryland, school system outside of Washington, DC, Mitchell often found it difficult to work with administrative leaders: “I had no problems with the students or the parents. . . it was the principals. They couldn’t cope with a strong black woman.” These challenges fueled her own aesthetic exploration, borne out in therapeutic all-night painting sessions at home. As part of her lifelong commitment to supporting young African American artists—especially women—Mitchell founded two art sororities that would advocate for its members exhibition opportunities. Theta Sigma Upsilon (1979) and Eta Phi Sigma (1981) chapters also sponsored community outreach events. In addition to these creative affiliations, Mitchell was active in the NAACP, the Urban League, and other civil rights organizations, which brought her into contact with important black female artists in the greater metropolitan area, including Loïs Jones, Delilah Pierce, and Alma Thomas.

Following her retirement from the classroom, travel abroad in Europe, Asia, and Africa influenced Mitchell’s art. Her quest to break barriers for other artists led to her personal success as well. The National Museum of Women in the Arts honored her with a solo exhibition, Glimpse of Joy, in 1992, the first for an African American woman at that institution.