By Lindsey Ziliak
When Herbert Miller applied to college more than 50 years ago, African-American students weren’t really welcomed.
He was one of only 11 in his freshman class at Indiana University.
He arrived on the Bloomington campus in 1956 when segregation was still the norm. African-American students lived in separate housing. They had to swim in separate pools, too, until IU President Herman B. Wells went swimming with a group of African-American students and broke down that barrier.
IU was among the more welcoming universities at the time, he said.
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 those students and attracted many of them.
“That was just the way things were in those days” he said. “Things are quite different now.”
Miller went on to become IU’s first African-American faculty member.
He taught for more than 40 years at IU Kokomo. He also served
as dean of faculty, assistant dean of academic affairs, acting chancellor, chief executive officer and special assistant to the chancellor. He taught multiple foreign languages and later led international business classes.
Miller, 83, was recently honored for his service at a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. The event’s theme was “Honoring our Unsung Heroes.”
Interim Chancellor Susan
Sciame-Giesecke said Miller’s recognition is well deserved.
“Herb Miller was instrumental in building IU Kokomo into what it is today,” she said. “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.”
He served as a role model to the campus’s international students.
He often befriended them and taught them American culture and customs, said David Rink, professor of marketing at IU Kokomo.
“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 described him as an intellectual who was well-read and could converse in multiple languages.
Miller could talk politics. He could talk history. He knew all kinds of nuances of many cultures, Rink said.
“He was also always very positive, always smiling,” Rink said. “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.
Miller witnessed campus history as IU Kokomo grew from a two-year degree campus with mostly adult students to one that offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees and attracts more and more traditional-aged students.
“I’ve seen great growth in the diversity of programs offered, along with increased student population,” he said. “It’s been interesting to watch.”
Miller said he’s seen cultural changes in his lifetime, too. There are more opportunities available to minorities than in the past, but there is still work to do, he said.
“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. The younger generations don’t have those same feelings about other races.”
He remembers 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 the transportation for students to get there.
“That is the price they were willing to pay to segregate the schools,” Miller said. “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.”
The prejudice extended to his time in Kokomo, too.
When Miller accepted a teaching job at IU Kokomo, Chancellor Victor Bogle helped Miller and his wife, Lillian, look for an apartment. They were astonished when the couple was denied one just blocks from campus.
The landlady told Bogle she wouldn’t have any place for “those people” to live.
Bogle later found Willis Hochstedler, a Mennonite dairy farmer with a home for rent east of Kokomo. Hochstedler told the Millers 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 that person.
Miller has great hope that future generations of African-Americans will not encounter the prejudices and barriers his generation faced. He said things will get better 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.”