Desegregation Years at Lee

'This institution has been a blessing to me'

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG

Posted 1/18/18

Though it is a diverse campus today, Lee University is among the many educational institutions that once experienced racial segregation. Bishop Quan Miller, a black Lee alumnus who attended …

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Desegregation Years at Lee

'This institution has been a blessing to me'

Posted

Though it is a diverse campus today, Lee University is among the many educational institutions that once experienced racial segregation. 

Bishop Quan Miller, a black Lee alumnus who attended shortly after the college’s desegregation, shared his story during an event Wednesday. His talk was part of a series of “MLK Week” events honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

“We faced some things in those first days at Lee,” Miller said. “But we eventually got involved, with help from supportive faculty and administrators, and felt like we were part of Lee College.” 

Lee accepted its first black students — three of them — in 1966. Miller noted that the Church of God, the denomination with which Lee is affiliated, had been accepting black members as early as 1906. The college started in 1918 as a Bible training institution for white students. 

Miller, who grew up in Florida, described being raised in a large, supportive family with parents who highly valued education. 

Most of his siblings had done well at their all-black high schools and attended historically black colleges. However, he and one of his sisters were the first to attend integrated schools and colleges.

Miller had attended all-black schools for most of his educational career, but later attended an integrated high school. Despite having to use old books discarded by the all-white schools, he stressed he had a quality education. 

 “We had the best education that we could have possibly had,” Miller said. 

Upon arriving for classes at his new school in the late 1960s — Pompano Beach Senior High in Pompano Beach, Fla. — he was surprised to learn what some white students thought of black students. Some of them had been taught that black people were unintelligent. 

“Many of them were astonished to know that we could read and that we could write,” Miller said. “We were educated to a point where they just couldn’t stand it.” 

As everyone continued to get to know one another, students at the high school formed a “Biracial Committee” to promote unity among students of different races. Miller joined the group and eventually became its chairman. 

To his surprise, during his senior year, he was also voted senior class president for the school. He was surprised but thrilled that he had earned the trust of his peers — both black and white. 

 “I won by a landslide in a school where only about 15 to 20 percent of the students were black, and the rest were white,” Miller said. “I was shocked just like they were.” 

Encouraged by this racial progress, Miller applied and was accepted to Lee. He and some of his friends traveled from Florida to start class together in 1970. 

Miller said it “meant much” for him have the chance to attend Lee. Unfortunately, not everyone at the college made him and his friends feel welcome. 

 “We ran into people who called us 'the n word.' To them, it was no problem,” Miller said. “We also had people try to say we didn’t belong in the church [denomination]. They said it was ‘their' church.” 

However, they did end up finding supportive peers and faculty. At one point, they realized that many white students just simply didn’t know that black people could succeed like white people. 

 “We really realized that many at this school did not know about contributions that blacks had made to the United States of America,” Miller said. “It had been spoken to many of the students that blacks had contributed nothing.” 

The students helped plan a chapel service and invited a speaker to teach students about black history. Despite growing awareness of black people’s ability to succeed, some of the students still faced problems.

One black student who had some questions about material covered in class reportedly had a professor tell him he could not help him because of “the pigmentation of his skin.” 

The college’s earliest students of color also ran into prejudice as they tried to get involved in its Christian ministry endeavors. Some of the students wanted to join Lee’s traveling choirs, but were rejected. 

 “We could not go on some of those great evangelistic endeavors because we were not white,” Miller said. “They told us, ‘They will not accept you.’ … So we said we would go and maybe help some of the black churches, and that is what we did.” 

Miller was among the students who helped found The Evangelist Crusade Team, which is today a student choir known as the Evangelistic Singers. 

Despite the challenges black students faced, Miller said he and his peers received great educations. In addition, many of them went on to lead successful careers. 

Miller himself has been a pastor, a Church of God state overseer and a member of Lee’s board of directors, among other things. 

 “This institution has been a blessing to me,” said Miller. 

Prior to his speech, Lee professor Dr. John Coats provided a brief history of the institution’s journey toward desegregation. 

He plans to expand on this with another “MLK Week” lecture tonight at 6 o'clock in Room 104 of Lee’s Humanities Center building. His subject is “’Necessary and Expedient,’ The Desegregation of Lee College, 1955-1970.”

The final event for the week is titled “Help Me Be Sensitive,” and will be led by Golden Madume. It takes place Friday at 6 p.m. in the Dixon Center auditorium.

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