The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Miller (Michael J.) Civil Rights Collection
Collection Number: M368
Volume: 1.8 cubic feet
Michael J. Miller graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1958. After Berkeley, he worked as a tenant organizer for the Henry Street Settlement House on New York’s Lower East Side. In 1960, he was fired from the job “for being too militant as a tenant organizer.” He subsequently returned to the San Francisco Bay Area.
By late fall of 1962, Miller had joined the fulltime staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area. In December of 1962, Sam Block and Willie McGee, two SNCC Mississippi Project staff who were on a fund-raising tour to the San Francisco Bay Area, invited Miller to participate in the voter registration campaign in the northwestern plantation counties of the Mississippi Delta.
In 1963, Miller went to Mississippi to serve as a field secretary in Greenwood, in Leflore County, where he worked in a variety of support functions for the Movement there. Typically, SNCC began their campaigns by exploring the economic and political history of a target community. Field workers were supplied by SNCC’s own research office with detailed information on a community’s economic and financial power structure.
By the spring of 1963, SNCC had 20 staff members and six offices in Mississippi. By August of 1963, SNCC had projects and permanent staff in a dozen Mississippi communities. Furthermore, there were 12 workers in SNCC's Atlanta headquarters, and 60 field secretaries and 121 fulltime volunteers working in projects in the Black Belt counties of Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia, as well as SNCC projects in Danville, Virginia and elsewhere in the deep South.
Like other SNCC staff, and other members of the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization set up to end duplication of efforts among local and national civil rights groups, Miller faced acts of lawlessness from whites who wished to keep the status quo. For example, Miller and two companions were run off the road in Tchula, in Holmes County, Mississippi. The local hospital refused to provide the needed medical treatment for the three so the town’s African American undertaker took them to the University Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, for the medical treatment that saved their lives.
Despite acts of lawlessness, SNCC decided to send volunteers to Mississippi for Freedom Summer 1964. According to SNCC’s Mississippi Project Director, Bob Moses, Freedom Summer’s goals were to expand black voter registration in Mississippi, organize a legally established “Freedom Democratic Party” to challenge the whites only Mississippi Democratic Party, to establish “freedom schools;” and to open community centers to help African Americans obtain legal and medical assistance.
Miller worked for a short time in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 1963, but did not participate in Freedom Summer. In October of 1966, Miller took a job working for the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) with Saul Alinsky in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1968, he returned to San Francisco, his hometown, where in 1972, he started the ORGANIZE Training Center (OTC), which initiates new organizing projects and trains people in a variety of community and labor organizing efforts. Miller has also been active in efforts which opposed U. S. intervention in Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
In addition, he has served as editor and has contributed numerous articles to Social Policy, the periodical, which “seeks to inform and report on the work of labor and community organizers who build union and constituency-based groups, run campaigns, and build movements for social justice, economic equality, and democratic participation in the U. S. and around the world.” Of his earlier experiences, Mike Miller writes, “My own work since founding OTC has been an effort to wed my Berkeley, SNCC and Alinsky experiences.”
Contents of the Collection
The inclusive dates of the collection are 1958 to 1988, but the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence and materials from 1964 to 1966, which document Michael J. Miller's tenure as a fulltime staff member on the Student Nonviolent Student Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1962 to 1966 in Mississippi. Specifically, the collection contains correspondence and materials on the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), Freedom Summer of 1964, Freedom Schools, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), and on other SNCC-related activities in Mississippi and in other states.