James A. Miller

James A. Miller

Professor of English and American Studies & Director of the Center for the Study of Public History and Culture


In Memorium: James A. Miller

Dr. James A. Miller, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, English, and Africana Studies, passed away on June 19th, 2015 after a battle with cancer. Jim was a beloved faculty member and mentor whose work focused on twentieth century African American cultural politics, including explorations of literature, film, and music. His Ph.D. dissertation on the works of Richard Wright fostered a long-standing interest in the relationship between social and political movements and African American cultural production, and Jim wrote extensively about individual African American writers, about film, and about African American music.

A recent remembrance of Jim in GWToday by Julyssa Lopez captures the tremendous impact he had on our community. Excerpts of the article can be found below, and the entire In Memorium piece can be found on the GW Today website

In Memoriam: Professor James Miller

Dr. Miller was an intellectual force and mentor in English and American Studies departments.


June 25, 2015
Though his office was filled with stacks of books sprouting from every inch of the floor, Professor of English and American Studies James Miller always made room for his students and colleagues. His mentees would wind through the towering piles of volumes by Ralph Ellison, Booker T. Washington and Richard Wright and sit with Dr. Miller to talk about assignments, ideas and thoughts on literature. Often, the conversations lasted hours—Dr. Miller was the most generous when it came to his time.
The longtime professor died last Friday after an illness. His colleagues remembered him as more than a scholar of African American literary and cultural studies. He was a mentor dedicated to both the George Washington University and the wider D.C. community. 
“Jim Miller was always a schoolteacher and one of those quiet giants. He preferred to talk about others than himself. Such are those with supreme confidence in themselves and in their missions,” said Maurice Jackson, a professor at Georgetown University and longtime friend of Dr. Miller. 
Dr. McAlister also noted Dr. Miller’s leadership style when he served as the chair of the American studies department from 2006 to 2010, calling him a model of support to faculty. In addition, Dr. Miller was director of the Center for the Study of Public Culture and Public History, and he chaired the Africana studies department from 1998 to 2006.
But his contributions went beyond GW’s campus. Dr. Miller’s class on black culture in the nation’s capital would take students directly into the D.C. community to learn about the city beyond its reputation as a political hub. The syllabus left no stone unturned: Students explored everything from go-go music venues to Ben’s Chili Bowl and Washington’s links to Marvin Gaye.
Dr. Miller also strengthened Washington scholarship by penning chapters about D.C., including his notable piece, “The Changing Face of Shaw.” His 2009 book, “Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial,” received recognition from the D.C.-based Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, and he frequently lectured around the city. He also reviewed African American literature in The Washington Post and The Washington Post Sunday Book World.   
 “Washington was made a better city because of Jim Miller,” Dr. Jackson said. “Maybe we will learn more about this city and about music and literature and good food and good company if we follow his dignified, kind and quiet example.”



Dr. Miller directed or served on the committee of the following recent dissertations:

“Rites of Identity and Stages of Postcolonial Consciousness in Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ayi Kwei Armah’s Fragments" (Howard University)

“’Let it Be Really New’: The Early New Masses and Nativist Discourse”

“Flight to San Francisco: Bay Area Literature and Multiculturalism”

“’No Deed But Memory’: Slavery in the American Cultural Imagination”

“’You Factory Folks Who Sing This Song Will Surely Understand’: Cultural Representations in the Gastonia Novels of Myra Page, Grace Lumpkin and Olive Dargan”

“Performative Politics in Chicago: The Black Arts Movement, Women Writers, and Visions of Nation and Identity”

“Mob Stories: Race, Nation and Narratives of Racial Violence”

Watch Jim Miller on History Detective

A TV appearance about Dr. Miller's last book, Remembering Scottsboro.

Books by Jim Miller

Remembering Scottsboro

Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial 

Approaches to Teaching Wright’s Native Son

Approaches to Teaching Wright’s Native Son