IU Kokomo's first African American faculty member honored at MLK celebration
Jan. 23, 2013
When Professor Herbert Miller applied to college more than 50 years ago, African American students weren't particularly welcomed, and were not a part of the student life experience.
Miller was one of 11 African Americans in his freshman class as an undergraduate at IU Bloomington, and remembers living in segregated campus housing while earning his graduate degrees.
He went on to become IU Kokomo's first African American faculty member. Miller taught for more than 40 years at IU Kokomo, where he also served as dean of faculty, assistant dean of academic affairs, acting chancellor, chief executive officer, dean of faculties and special assistant to the chancellor. He taught multiple foreign languages and later led international business classes.
An unsung hero
Miller, 83, was recently honored for his service at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. IU Kokomo and Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc., Omicron Phi Omega chapter, co-hosted the event, with the theme "Honoring our Unsung Heroes."
He's seen great changes during his lifetime, and more opportunities available to minorities than in the past, but said there's still work to do. "It's a long, slow process," he said. "You wonder when are we ever going to get to the other side of this. We're at least heading in the right direction."
Interim Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke said Miller was instrumental in building IU Kokomo into what it is today. "As one of our pioneers, he will always hold a special place in our campus history, and truly deserves recognition as an unsung hero, because he is a servant leader who puts the campus and students first," she said.
He was beloved by international students, who he helped become acclimated to the campus and community, teaching them American culture and customs.
David Rink, professor of marketing, called Miller the campus' ambassador to students from other countries. "I couldn't begin to guess the number of students he had an impact on during his years on campus," Rink said. "He was very proud that many of them went on to get advanced degrees."
Rink said Miller also stood out as someone who could converse in multiple languages, and could converse knowledgeably on many topics. "He could sit down and talk with you rather authoritatively, because he was well-read in a lot of subjects," Rink said. "He could talk politics, he could talk history, he knew all kinds of nuances of many cultures. He was also always very positive, always smiling. He made you feel good, and his office door was always open."
Miller began teaching Russian, German and French at IU Kokomo in 1960, when the campus was still housed in the Seiberling Mansion, on West Sycamore Street.
He saw IU Kokomo grow from a two-year degree campus with mostly adult students to one offering bachelor's and master's degrees, and attracting more and more traditional-aged students. "I've seen great growth in the diversity of programs offered," he said, along with increased student population.
Miller also experienced African American history; from the days he rode a bus from the southeast side of Indianapolis clear across town to Crispus Attucks High School, the only high school available to black students in the city.
"The school system paid for our transportation to go there," he said. "That is the price they were willing to pay to segregate the schools. Looking back, that might have been an advantage at the time. All the teachers were African American, and they couldn't get teaching jobs anywhere else, so we had many teachers with advanced degrees. We might have gotten a better education there than we could have in an integrated school, with the feelings people had at that time."
He studied Spanish, French, and Latin in high school, and then concentrated on Spanish and French as an undergraduate. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Miller earned graduate degrees from Indiana University in Russian language.
He arrived on the Bloomington campus in 1956, when segregation was still the norm. African American students lived in separate housing, and had to swim in separate pools, until IU President Herman B. Wells went swimming with a group of African American students, breaking down that barrier.
Miller said many southern states would not accept African Americans into their universities' graduate programs, but would pay to send them out-of-state to earn advanced degrees. IU was known as a place that accepted and attracted many African American students.
"That was just the way things were in those days," Miller said. "Things are quite different now."
'I have hope'
After earning his Ph.D., Miller accepted a teaching job at IU Kokomo. Chancellor Victor Bogle helped Miller and his wife, Lillian, look for an apartment, and was astonished when they were denied one just blocks from campus. The landlady told Bogle she "wouldn't have anyplace for those people to live."
Bogle later found Willis Hochstedler, a Mennonite dairy farmer with a home for rent east of Kokomo, who told him he didn't care what color their skin was, "as long as they are decent people."
The Millers lived in that home for 13 years, and then decided to build a house when a lot came up for sale in the neighborhood. Knowing another African American had been refused a lot in that area, they had Hochstedler buy the land and then sell it to them.
Miller is now retired and is "doing nothing and enjoying it," he said, laughing.
He likes to watch YouTube videos in foreign languages to maintain his language skills, and visits campus a few times a week. He has an office in the Main Building, where he enjoys visiting old friends.
Miller has great hope that future generations of African Americans will not encounter the prejudices and barriers his generation faced, as the older people who carried those feelings pass away.
"People feel how they feel, and logic has a hard time overcoming feelings," he said. "The younger generations weren't raised with these prejudices, so I have hope for them."