History lives on, I wrote in my last post, not just in museum and books but in stories our neighbors tell and in the names of parks and schools. Well, case in point — an article in this morning’s Washington Post talks about the new longer academic year being instituted at ten DC public schools including Kelly Miller Middle School. How many people reading the piece know who Kelly Miller was? I wonder.
As it happens, I do! I am familiar with Kelly Miller because in 1934 he was awarded a Rosenwald fellowship in creative writing. Kelly Miller was well known in Washington, D.C. as a professor of mathematics and sociology at Howard University as well as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences there. But he also enjoyed a national reputation as a writer and scholar who attempted to bridge the acrimonious personal and philosophical divide between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. He was an early and active member of the Washington, D.C. branch of the NAACP, assisted in editing The Crisis magazine, was the author of many scholarly articles and books as well as of a weekly column that appeared in 100 newspapers.
Miller is in some ways typical of the remarkable first generation of African American intellectuals of which Washington and DuBois were both part. He was born during the Civil War in South Carolina. His mother was enslaved, his father conscripted into the Confederate Army! After emancipation young Miller was noticed for his academic gifts and he won a scholarship first to Howard University and, later, to Johns Hopkins where he was the first black student to do graduate work in mathematics, physics and astronomy. Appointed to the faculty at Howard he was instrumental in introducing the new field of sociology to the curriculum in 1895.
Here is a picture I found online that appears to be Miller as a child, front and center, with his brothers. I want to know more about Kelly Miller. I guess I really do have to write that book about Rosenwald fellows!