Civil Rights Tour: Education - "Kelly Miller Says"

2225 4th Street NW (Site)

In 1895, Kelly Miller, a prominent intellectual, author and faculty member at Howard University, convinced the university to add to its curriculum the new discipline of sociology. Sociologists, Miller argued, could objectively analyze the wrongs of the American racial system and thus aid the battle for civil rights.

Born in South Carolina, Kelly Miller (1863-1939) graduated from Howard University in 1880. He was appointed to the Howard faculty in 1890, teaching mathematics and, after 1895, sociology. While teaching, he earned two more degrees from Howard, in mathematics and law, and served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1907 to 1918.

Miller became a national leader, advocating the training of African Americans as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals to serve their race. With the aim of creating a national center for black studies, he persuaded Rev. Jesse E. Moorland to donate his private library on Africans and people of African descent to Howard University, where it became the foundation of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. A prolific writer of books, pamphlets, and a newspaper column, “Kelly Miller Says,” Miller spoke out against the rise of white supremacy and the efforts in Congress to disfranchise and deny civil rights to African Americans. He also effectively refuted claims by white sociologists that problems in black communities and families were genetically based.

Miller and his family lived on the Howard campus at 2225 Fourth Street from 1897 until his death. Influenced by the family’s friendships with LeDroit Park neighbors Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes, Miller’s daughter May became an accomplished poet and playwright at the same time that she commuted to Baltimore for 20 years to teach high school. The Miller house was razed in 1965 and replaced with Bethune Hall, a Howard University dormitory. Several sites in D.C. have been named in honor of Kelly Miller including Kelly Miller Park, Kelly Miller School, and Kelly Miller Dwellings, to name a few.