Welcome! If you are interested in my research, this website features links to my scholarly articles, arranged by topic and also by year, and my CV.
Why I Study African American Rhetoric
Many people ask me why I primarily study and teach African American rhetoric. My father, Ernest Miller, attended a liberal Protestant seminary at the same time that Martin Luther King, Jr., attended a different liberal Protestant seminary. They studied the same curriculum; while I was growing up, Dad taught me about the renowned Protestant theologians and preachers of his era. That background gave me a way to view King that most other scholars lacked.
King pulled me into African American rhetoric and culture in general. I have also published on the African American Jeremiad and about Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson (and Dizzy Gillespie), C.L. Franklin, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X. I recently had the enormous privilege of assisting Rene Billups Baker in writing her memoir, My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King, Jr.: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement. I have spent much of the last eight years researching and writing a book tentatively titled Who Wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X?
At a Pharmacy in Harlem
One day I was standing at a pharmacy in Harlem behind an old man who was sitting in a chair with his hands on a walker. When the pharmacist asked him to come forward, he put his hands on the walker and started to lift himself to his feet. Speaking to no one in particular, he declared, “Up, you mighty race! You can accomplish what you will!”
I recognized that he was explaining his own act of standing as a synecdoche for the centuries-old African American struggle. He was also repeating the slogan of Marcus Garvey, a mighty champion of Black people during the 1920s. I wasn’t sure what to say but didn’t want the comment to simply disappear in the air. So I gently stated, “That’s Marcus Garvey.”
Now standing, he turned and wagged his finger at me. He rasped, “Yes! And he did what he could! So did the others! Even Booker T.! They don’t like him, but he did what he could, too! So did Sojourner! So did all of them! And Obama, too! We just got to keep going, just like they did!”
I stood there speechless–a rare state for me. African Americans have struggled for centuries against the ravages of slavery, rape, lynching, sharecropping, disfranchisement, white riots, and segregation. That struggle–and the hope that propelled it–undergirded every word from that man’s mouth.