Today we will visit with Dr. Kelly Miller, The first Black Graduate Student in America.

Article Source

Miller received his early education in one of the local primary schools established during Reconstruction and, based on the recommendation of a missionary (Reverend Willard Richardson) who recognized Miller’s mathematical aptitude, Miller attended the Fairfield Institute in Winnsboro, South Carolina from 1878 to 1880. Awarded a scholarship to Howard University, he completed the Preparatory Department’s three-year curriculum in Latin, Greek, and mathematics in two years (1880-1882), then attended the College Department at Howard from 1882 to 1886.

Dr. Kelly Miller 1863-1939

Dr. Kelly Miller 1863-1939

During the period from 1882 to 1886, while Miller attended  the College Department at Howard University, he also worked as  a clerk for the U.S. Pension Office for two years. Kelly Miller  was appointed to the position in the Pension Office after taking  the civil service examination a test prescribed by the Civil  Service Act passed during the administration of President Grover  Cleveland. Miller’s greatest influence while at Howard University  where his professors of Latin (James Monroe Gregory) and History  (Howard president William Weston Patton, who also taught philosophy  and conducted weekly vesper services required of all students).  He received a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) from Howard University  in 1886. Miller continued to work at the Pension Office after  graduation in 1886. He also studied advanced mathematics (1886-1887)  with Captain Edgar Frisby, an English mathematician at the U.S.  Naval Observatory. Frisby’s chief at the observatory, Simon Newcomb,  who was also a professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University,  and who recommended Miller for admission to Hopkins University  President Daniel Coit Gilman.

Johns Hopkins University had recently become the first American  school to offer graduate work in mathematics. As Miller was to  be the first African American student admitted to the university,  the recommendation was decided by the Board of Trustees, who  decided to admit Miller based on the university founder’s known  Quaker beliefs.

From 1887 to 1889 Miller performed graduate work in Mathematics,  Physics, and Astronomy. When an increase in tuition ($100 to  $200) prevented Miller from continuing his studies, Kelly Miller  left (and Johns Hopkins closed its doors to Blacks) and taught  at the M Street High School in Washington, D.C. (1889-1890),  whose principal was Francis L. Cardozo. [Note: One source reports  that Kelly Miller left school after deciding that his best contribution  would be in the areas of civil rights.]

After teaching mathematics briefly at the M Street High School  in Washington, D.C. (1889-1890), he was appointed to the faculty  of Howard  University in 1890. Five years later Miller added sociology  to Howard’s curriculum because he thought that the new discipline  was important for developing objective analyses of the racial  system in the United States. As dean of the College of Arts and  Sciences, he modernized the classical curriculum, strengthening  the natural and social sciences.

From Howard University, Kelly Miller received a Master of  Arts (M.A.) in Mathematics (1901) and a law degree (LL.D.)  in 1903.

From 1895 to 1907 Miller was professor of mathematics and  sociology, but he taught sociology exclusively after that, serving  from 1915 to 1925 as head of the new sociology department. In  1894 Miller had married Annie May Butler, a teacher at the Baltimore  Normal School, with whom he had five children.

Noted for his brilliant mind, Miller rapidly became a major  figure in the life of Howard University. In 1907 he was appointed  dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. During his twelve-year  deanship the college grew dramatically, as the old classical  curriculum was modernized and new courses in the natural sciences  and the social sciences were added. Miller’s recruiting tours  through the South and Middle Atlantic states were so successful  that the enrollment increased from 75 undergraduates in 1907  to 243 undergraduates in 1911.

Although Miller was a leader at Howard for most of his tenure  there, his national importance derived from his intellectual  leadership during the conflict between the “accommodationism”  of Booker T. Washington and the “radicalism” of the  nascent civil rights movement led by W. E. B. Du Bois.  Critical of Washington’s famous Cotton States Exposition Address  (1895) in 1896, Miller later praised Washington’s emphasis on  self-help and initiative. He remained an opponent of the exaggerated  claims made on behalf of industrial education and became one  of the most effective advocates of higher education for black  Americans when it was attacked as “inappropriate” for  a people whose social role was increasingly limited by statute  and custom to agriculture, some skilled trades, unskilled labor,  and domestic service.

In the Educational Review, Dial, Education,  the Journal of Social Science, and other leading journals,  Miller argued that blacks required wise leadership in the difficult  political and social circumstances following the defeat of Reconstruction,  and only higher education could provide such leaders. Moreover,  the race required physicians, lawyers, clergymen, teachers, and  other professionals whose existence was dependent on higher education.  Excluded from most white colleges, black Americans would have  to secure higher education in their own institutions, Miller  argued, and some of them, like Howard, Fisk, and Atlanta Universities,  would emphasize liberal education and the professions rather  than the trades and manual arts (industrial education) stressed  at Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. In the debate between the  advocates of collegiate and industrial education, Miller maintained  that the whole matter was one of “ratio and proportion”  not “fundamental controversy.” Recognized as one of  the most influential black educators in the nation because of  his extensive writing and his leadership at Howard, Miller was  sought out by both camps in the controversy but was trusted by  neither because of his refusal to dogmatically support either  of the rival systems.

Miller’s reputation as a “philosopher of the race question”  was based on his brilliant articles, published anonymously at  first, on “radicals” and “conservatives”  in the Boston Transcript (18, 19 Sept. 1903). With some  alterations, these articles later became the lead essay in his  book Race Adjustment (1908). Miller’s essays insisted  on the right of black Americans to protest against the injustices  that had multiplied with the rise of the white supremacy movement  in the South, as the Du Bois “radicals” did, but he  also advocated racial solidarity, thrift, and institution-building  as emphasized by the followers of Washington. Characteristically,  Miller had two reputations as a public policy analyst, first  as a compromiser between black radicals and conservatives, and  second as a race spokesman during the prolonged crisis of disfranchisement  and the denial of civil rights by white supremacists and their  elected representatives in Congress. The Disgrace of Democracy:  An Open Letter to President Woodrow Wilson, a pamphlet published  in August 1917, was Miller’s most popular effort. Responding  to recent race riots in Memphis and East St. Louis, Miller argued  that a “democracy of race or class is no democracy at all.”  Writing to Woodrow Wilson, he said, “It is but hollow mockery  of the Negro when he is beaten and bruised in all parts of the  nation and flees to the national government for asylum, to be  denied relief on the basis of doubtful jurisdiction. The black  man asks for protection and is given a theory of government.”  More than 250,000 copies of the pamphlet were sold, and the military  authorities banned it on army posts.

Although Miller was best known as a controversialist, he also  made important but frequently overlooked contributions to the  discipline of sociology. His earliest contribution was his analysis  of Frederick L. Hoffman’s Race Traits and Tendencies of the  American Negro, published by the American Economic Association  in 1896. Hoffman attempted to demonstrate that the social disorganization  of black Americans (weak community institutions and family structure)  was caused by an alleged genetic inferiority and that their correspondingly  high mortality rate would result in their disappearance as an  element of the American population. Miller’s refutation of Hoffman’s  claims, A Review of Hoffman’s  Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro,  published by the American Negro Academy in 1897, was based on  a technical analysis of census data.

Perhaps Miller’s most lasting contribution to scholarship  was his pioneering advocacy of the systematic study of black  people. In 1901 he proposed to the Howard board of trustees that  the university financially support the publications of the American  Negro Academy, whose goals were to promote literature, science,  art, higher education, and scholarly works by blacks, and to  defend them against “vicious assaults.” Although the  board declined, it permitted the academy to meet on the campus.  Convinced that Howard should use its prestige and location in  Washington to become a national center for black studies, Miller  planned a “Negro-Americana Museum and Library.” In  1914 he persuaded Jesse E. Moorland, a Howard alumnus and Young  Men’s Christian Association official, to donate to Howard his  large private library on blacks in Africa and in the United States  as the foundation for the proposed center. This became the Moorland  Foundation (reorganized in 1973 as the Moorland-Spingarn Research  Center), a research library, archives, and museum that has been  vital to the emergence of sound scholarship in this field.

The years after World War I were difficult ones for Miller.  J. Stanley Durkee, the last of Howard’s white presidents, was  appointed in 1918 and set out to curtail the baronial power of  the deans by building a new central administration. Miller, a  conspicuously powerful dean, was demoted in 1919 to dean of a  new junior college, which was later abolished in 1925. A leader  in the movement to have a black president of Howard, Miller was  a perennial favorite of the alumni but was never selected. Although  his influence at Howard declined significantly by the late 1920s  through his retirement in 1934, Miller’s stature as a commentator  on race relations and politics remained high. He had become alarmed  by the vast social changes stimulated by World War I and was  seen as increasingly conservative. He opposed the widespread  abandonment of farming by black Americans and warned that the  mass migration to cities would be socially and culturally destructive.  At a time when many younger blacks regarded labor unions as progressive  forces, Miller was skeptical of them, citing their history of  persistent racial discrimination. He remained an old-fashioned  American patriot despite the nation’s many disappointing failures  to extend democracy to black Americans. As a weekly columnist  in the black press, Miller’s views were published in more than  one hundred newspapers. By 1923 it was estimated that his columns  reached half a million readers. Miller died at his home on the  campus of Howard University.

Thanks for your attention.


About The BETAA at NJIT Mentor

Long Distance Mentor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s