Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

The Quotable Black Scholar: Kelly Miller on Race and Civilization

July 13th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance


Kelly Miller (1863 – 1939)


In the course of history the ascendency of the various races and nations of men is subject to strange variability. The Egyptian, the Jew, the Indian, the Greek, the Roman, the Arab, has each had his turn at domination. When the earlier nations were in their zenith of art and thought and song, Fran[ce] and Britain, and Germans were roaming through dense forest, groveling in subterranean caves, practicing barbarous rites, and chanting horrid incantations to graven gods. In the proud days of Aristotle, the ancestors of Newton and Shakespeare and Bacon could not count beyond the ten fingers. As compared with the developed civilization of the period, they were a backward, though as subsequent development has shown, by no means an inferior race. There were hasty philosophers in that day who branded these people with the everlasting stamp of inferiority.

–Kelly Miller, speaking out against efforts to label Black Americans as backward and/or intellectually inferior, as quoted in Alexander’s Magazine, August 15, 1906.


Biographical Notes: The son of a free Black man (Kelly Miller, Sr. ) and enslaved Black woman (Elizabeth Roberts Miller), Kelly Miller, Jr. was born in South Carolina. This passage from the Mathematics in the African Diaspora website at the State University of New York at Buffalo describes Miller’s education and his early career as an educator:

In 1880 Miller was awarded a scholarship to attend Howard University, were he was enrolled in the Prepartory Department which emphasised a curriculum in Latin, Greek, and Mathematics. Miller completed the normal three-year curriculm in two years […] Miller’s greatest influence while at Howard University were 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 from Howard University in 1886, a Master of Arts in 1901 and a law degree (LL.D.) in 1903. Miller continued to work at the Pension Office after graduation in 1886.

Johns Hopkins University became the first american school to offer graduate work in mathematics. Miller studied mathematics at The Johns Hopkins University from 1886 to 1887  […] 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 postgraduate work in Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy. When an increase in tuition prevented Miller from continuing his post-graduate studies Kelly Miller taught at the M Street High School in Washington, D.C. (1889-1890), whose principal was Francis L. Cardozo. He was appointed as Professor of Mathematics at Howard University in 1890.

In 1895, Professor Kelly Miller introduced sociology into the Howard University curriculum. He served as a sociology professor at Howard from that year until 1934. From 1907 to 1919, Miller served as Howard’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. During his tenure as dean, Howard thrived and grew, adding students and academic programs. In addition to being a mathematician, sociologist, and educator, Kelly Miller was also a prolific writer who published several important pamplets, books, and other writings. His weekly column, which he wrote during the 1920s and early 1930s, appeared in over 100 newspapers.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in Academia, African Americans, Black Colleges, Black History, Higher Education, race

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