Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

The Quotable Black Scholar: Kelly Miller

August 24th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

Kelly Miller (1863 – 1939)

To expect the Negroes of Georgia to produce a great general like Napoleon when they are not even allowed to carry arms, or to deride them for not producing scholars like those of the Renaissance when a few years ago they were forbidden the use of letters, verges closely upon the outer rim of absurdity. Do you look for great Negro statesmen in States where black men are not allowed to vote?

–Kelly Miller in “As to the Leopard’s Spots; An Open Letter to Thomas Dixon, Jr.,” 1905.

Note: Thomas Dixon, Jr. (1864 – 1946) is best known as the author of The Clansman, the novel that became the inspiration for D.W. Griffith’s racist tour de force, Birth of a Nation.


Biographical Notes: Kelly Miller, the first African American to pursue graduate studies in mathematics, was born on July 18, 1863 in Winnsboro, South Carolina. The sixth of ten children born to a free Black man and a slave (Kelly MIller, Sr and Elizabeth Roberts Miller), he earned a scholarship to Howard University where he completed both preparatory and baccalaureate studies.

MIller began graduate studies at The John Hopkins University in 1887. According to SUNY Buffalo’s Mathematics in the African Diaspora website, “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.” Miller studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy at Hopkins, until a tuition increase (from $100 to $200) brought an end to his term there.

Later, Miller would earn two graduate degrees from Howard University, in mathematics (M.A., 1901) and law (L.L.D., 1903). He joined the Howard faculty in 1895, and remained there until his retirment in 1934. He is remembered his dedication to teaching, recruitment, and the growth of the University, particularly during his tenure as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1907 to 1919).

Professor Miller died on December 29, 1939, at his home on the campus of Howard University.

For a more detailed biography, click HERE.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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

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