About Patti Miller

Patti Miller grew up in an all white small rural community in Iowa, in the heart of the Midwest. Her hero was Abraham Lincoln and her assumption, from her reading, was that the slaves were freed and that all men and women, black and white, lived together in harmony in her country.

Patti and her family - 1948
She, like many in the 1950’s were unaware of the Jim Crow laws and the subsequent segregation in the south. With little or no television and limited printed material on current events, Patti lived a “sheltered and naïve life”, as she describes it, unaware that there were many in her own country who were mistreated just because of the color of their skin.

After enrolling as a music major at Drake University in Des Moines, Ia,, Patti became friends with African and African American students and became aware, by association, of the prejudice toward her fellow students. In her sophomore year, in 1963, Patti had an opportunity to travel through the deep south with a group of fellow students from the Wesley Foundation on campus. Before leaving, the students studied the history of the treatment of African Americans in the south. They learned of the growing Civil Rights Movement and of some of it’s leaders, such as Martin Luther King. This trip was to become a life-altering event for Patti.

In the spring of 1963, Patti was exposed to the “hidden truths” of the south. She saw for the first time the “colored waiting rooms” and “white waiting rooms” She saw “colored” drinking fountains and “white only” drinking fountains. She learned about the laws that made refusing service to Negroes legal and about blacks having to ride in the backs of the buses and to stand if a white person wanted their seat. She learned of civil rights workers being jailed for protesting these laws and the conditions that made it impossible for her black sisters and brothers to vote. A shocked and angry Patti Miller returned to Iowa after that trip, determined that things like this should not be happening in her country.

In 1964, Patti saw a brochure on a bulletin board on campus telling of a Summer Project in Mississippi. It was an invitation to students, especially northern students to spend the summer in Mississippi, helping with voter registration, working in freedom schools and community centers while living with local black families. Patti knew instantly that she wanted to go. The summer is now referred to as Freedom Summer ’64. (You may read more about it on other pages on this website.) That summer changed Patti’s life and the life of the country.

After returning to college, she became active in helping to change the housing policies at Drake which until that time allowed those who offered off-campus housing to discriminate against black students.

After graduating from Drake, Patti worked for more than two years in Chicago with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the Project to End Slums. While headquartering with SCLC on Chicago’s West Side, she worked with college students at area colleges and universities to encourage participation in Dr. King’s work in the north. She helped organize and participate in many of the marches in Chicago suburbs. At the time of Dr. King’s assassination, Patti was teaching music in Chicago’s largest all-black inner city high school.

Patti is now devoting her time to Keeping History Alive by sharing her story through public lectures, making a documentary and writing a book. Patti is eager to connect with the young people of today to inspire them to make their own history in responding to the challenges facing our country and communities today.

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