When children are asked to do research on a famous Black American, they often lean toward the familiar figures: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman or George Washington Carver.
But when historian and award-winning public radio documentarian Amina Hassan heard about an attorney who had been critical in the civil rights victories of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, she said she became curious.
That curiosity led her to uncover little known facts about Loren Miller – the son of a former slave and a white Midwesterner born in 1903 whose life reflects the quintessential America success story – rising from poverty to power and influence.
After earning his law degree, Miller, who was said to prefer political activism and writing to the law, made his way from his home in Kansas to Los Angeles where he took a job as a journalist and owner of the California Eagle, one of the longest-running Black newspapers in the West. At the same time, he assisted the California branch of the ACLU, working to stop the internment of Japanese citizens, helping to integrate the U.S. military and the L.A Fire Department and defending Black Muslims arrested in a deadly street brawl with the LAPD.
Hassan shared her views during an author’s reading at Sankofa Video Books & Café on Saturday, Feb. 6 in Northwest, also speaking to audiences several days earlier at Upshur Street Books and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, both also in Northwest.
“Miller was an essential part of the legal team in the Brown v Board of Education landmark case, serving as the writer of the briefs for Thurgood Marshall but he’s rarely mentioned – that’s a real travesty,” she said. “One of his cases, Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) is taught in nearly every American law school today.”
“I think his contributions aren’t as well-known because he was based out West in L.A. – most of the great leaders in Black history we hear about lived in either the South or the East. Only in the last few years have we heard more about Miller. But we owe a great deal to him and his lifelong commitment to making democracy work for the minority,” said Hassan, a single parent of five children who received her Ph.D. in rhetorical criticism from Ohio University and lives a bi-coastal life between D.C. and L.A.
“He was also a frustrated writer but he went into law in order to honor his father’s wishes,” she said. “Few people know that he co-founded the Los Angeles Sentinel in 1964 with his cousin, often writing the editorials. He was appointed as a judge in 1964 too and died in 1967 at the age of 64.”
Miller’s influence continues to be felt, particularly in the state of California.
“One of the state’s most prestigious awards is The Loren Miller Legal Services Award – one of the greatest honors an attorney can receive and the only award that allows the recipient to speak at the ceremony during which they’re honored,” Hassan said.
As for the Black press, Miller was often more critical than complimentary.
“Miller said the Black press tended to misrepresent the real role portrayed by Black actors, painting them as stars in films when they were more accurately bit part players,” Hassan said. “He wanted the Black press to tell the truth. His words remain relevant today in light of the many criticisms lodged against the Academy because of its lack of diversity in its awards decisions.”
From Pinder, Nebraska, one of seven children, the extremely intelligent Miller made his mark in his community and in America.
“He often shared his story of extreme poverty with school children in order to show them that by working hard at one’s studies, it’s possible to achieve anything,” Hassan said.
Loren Miller – a true American original who had the courage to defy the limits of society while reshaping the political and racial landscape of 20th century America.