Remembering James A. (Jim) Miller (August 27, 1947-June 19, 2015)

[by Matthew Broussard]

Editor’s Note: The Official Statement Released by George Washington Today can be accessed by clicking here or the link at the bottom of this post.

The Project on the History of Black Writing is saddened by the untimely loss of James (Jim) Miller. Miller is a graduate of SUNY, and he went on to teach at George Washington University where he was professor of English, American studies, and Director of the Center for the Study of Public History and Culture. Miller’s scholarly pursuits were concerned with twentieth century African American cultural politics.

Miller’s most recent book, Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial (2009), examines the impact of the 1931 trial on American culture. The case gained infamy after 9 black youths were charged and put to death after being accused of raping a white woman, despite lack of solid evidence. Barbara Foley of the African American Review writes that the book “is a valuable contribution to the growing body of scholarship that documents repression, resistance, and representation in and of the Jim Crow South. This important book should be widely read and taught.”

Miller created a valuable resource for the study of Richard Wright by editing Approaches to Teaching Wright’s Native Son (1997), and he was also editor of The Richard Wright Newsletter, founded by the Project on the History of Black Writing.

doris davenport, a colleague and close friend of Jim, has shared with HBW the following poem:

Jim Miller

Turned slightly to see peripherally,
he had – like Dumbledore in the
first Harry Potter movie – silently apparated
behind me thrilled but unshocked since forewarned,
he was announced in the program book as
chair of a 9 a.m. Saturday session
so here you are with that same
scholarly old man shuffle, that
bifocal squint & sappy grin heading straight
for my arms indirectly into a clutch of also-hugs
and grinning folks you, speak to all after my improvised
circle happy dance around you as
Thadious waited, smiling quietly asks how are you, Jim
 then Thelma said we had invaded  her
paid-for display table where we sat
continued our endless 45 yr conversation including what
room where are the rooms what time
as Thelma steadily unloaded, laid out more books
& seeing that,  i told her you were my husband & i  wanted to trade you for
a book but she said no as she has  a surplus of men including 2

Then that night in search of oysters we made
an epic trek, of the underworld African  & Greek
type no Legba on the corner crossroads but
a man on a bicycle who dismounted to whisper
a hustle to us & raise his eyepatch
to show a sunken dark socket
in a 3rd level of darkness lost
back here on semi-gentrified mostly empty eloquent
storehouses here in this Warehouse District still
populated by the unquiet voices
of the Enslaved
Last day, finally eating raw oysters
here in the Green Isle Restaurant
on Convention  Boulevard not too far
from the Morial Convention Center. The
same place we could not find the night
before as we walked backwards away
from the river in that damp haunted darkness
where Tara said Solomon Northrup and
others like him were probably
dropped off this is not at all what i intended to write
but rather something light, teasing,
silly or accidentally profound
but i am a word ho. i let poetry
have its way with me when and as
it wants to in all  orifices at once.
Eating or rather slurping raw oysters
here at the Oyster Bar. Not really
i don’t like them but enuf horse
radish, sauce made by our delightful
youngmale artist, the sweet afternoon
Saturday New Orleans
sunshine & the fact that i may not see you
again for years or ever,
made that nasty looking grey glob
slide down easy.
” Jim died at 3 p.m. today.”  June 19, 2015
today water runs uphill
lizards dance on tree limbs
singing like birds
bears win a foot race with deer
in loud thunderous silence

Jim, you will be missed.
Link to George Washington Today Statement