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Melvin Miller

Newspaper publisher and editor Melvin B. Miller was born on July 22, 1934 in Boston, Massachusetts. Miller grew up in Boston’s middle-class Roxbury neighborhood and graduated from Boston Latin School. He then enrolled at Harvard College and graduated from there in 1956 with his A.B. degree. Following a six month stint as an executive trainee at Aetna Insurance in Hartford, Connecticut, Miller was drafted and served for two years in the U.S. Army. He went on to enroll at Columbia University Law School and earned his J.D. degree from there in 1964. Miller was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar and the Federal Bar.

Upon graduation, Miller joined the U.S. Department of Justice as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. In 1965, he founded the Bay State Banner and served as the newspaper’s publisher, editor, and chief executive officer. In 1973, the Massachusetts Banking Commission appointed Miller as the conservator and chief executive officer of the Unity Bank and Trust Company, Boston’s first minority bank. In 1977, Boston Mayor Kevin W. White named him as one of the three commissioners of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. Miller became Chairman of the Commission in 1980. Miller then became a founding partner in the corporate law firm of Fitch, Miller, and Tourse where he practiced law from 1981 to 1991. He also served as the vice president and general counsel of WHDH-TV, an affiliate of the Central Broadcasting Station, from 1982 to 1993. Miller was a director of the United States-South Africa Leadership Exchange Program (USSALEP). He has written editorials for The Boston Globe, The Pilot, and Boston Magazine, and is the author of How to Get Rich When You Ain’t Got Nothing.

Miller is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the Harvard Club of Boston, and the St. Botolph Club. Miller is a director of OneUnited Bank and MassINC. He is also a trustee of the Huntington Theatre Company and a trustee emeritus of Boston University.

Miller received the Award of Excellence from the Art Director’s Club of Boston in 1970. The New England Press Association awarded Miller the First Prize in General Excellence and the Second Prize in Make-up & Typography in 1970. Miller is a recipient of the Annual Achievement Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people. Miller received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Suffolk University in 1984 and an Honorary Doctor Humane Letters degree from Emerson College in 2010.

Melvin B. Miller was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 24, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.162

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/24/2013

4/27/2013

Last Name

Miller

Maker Category
Middle Name

B.

Occupation
Schools

Boston Latin School

Harvard University

Columbia Law School

David A. Ellis Elementary School

Henry Lee Higginson Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Melvin

Birth City, State, Country

Boston

HM ID

MIL09

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

God Dwells Within You As You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Interview Description
Birth Date

7/22/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

USA

Short Description

Newspaper editor Melvin Miller (1934 - ) was the founder, publisher and editor of the Bay State Banner, a weekly newspaper advocating the interests of Greater Boston’s African American community.

Employment

The Bay State Banner

Unity Bank and Trust Company

Fitch, Miller & Touse

WHDH TV, Channel 7

United States Department of Justice

Aetna Life & Casualty

NYC insurance company

Public Schools

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646420">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Melvin Miller's interview, session 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646421">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646422">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646423">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller talks about his maternal grandfather's musical background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646424">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller describes his maternal grandmother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646425">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller talks about his maternal grandparents</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646426">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller talks about the African American community in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646427">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller describes his mother's upbringing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646428">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller talks about his Uncle Charlie</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646429">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646430">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller talks about his paternal grandmother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646431">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller describes his family connection to the black loyalist colony in Nova Scotia, Canada</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646432">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller describes his father's career at the U.S. Post Office Department</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646433">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller talks about his parents' relationship</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646434">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646435">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller lists his siblings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646436">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646437">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller describes his experiences at Henry L. Higginson Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646438">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller remembers the Washington Park neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646439">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646440">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller remembers his high school classmate, Minister Louis Farrakhan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646441">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller describes his experiences at the Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646442">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller talks about the academic rigor of the Boston Latin School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646443">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller recalls the prevalence of bullying at the Boston Latin School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646444">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller recalls his experiences at the St. Mark Congregational Church in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646445">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller remembers his extracurricular activities at the Boston Latin School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646446">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller remembers his SAT scores</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646447">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller describes his involvement with the NAACP in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646448">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller recalls his classmates at Harvard University, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646449">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller recalls his classmates at Harvard University, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646450">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller talks about the H-Block Gang</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646451">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller describes his experiences at Harvard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646452">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller talks about his academic difficulties at Harvard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646453">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller talks about the African American faculty at Harvard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646454">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller talks about Edward Brooke's political career, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646455">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller talks about Edward Brooke's political career, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646456">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller describes the African American community at Harvard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646457">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller remembers his graduation from Harvard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646458">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller describes how he came to work at the Aetna Life and Casualty Company in Hartford, Connecticut</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646459">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller talks about his U.S. military service</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646460">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller talks about his maternal family's German ancestry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646461">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller recalls his decision to attend Columbia Law School in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646462">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller remembers investigating insurance claims in New York City's Harlem neighborhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646463">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller recalls a confrontation with the New York City Police Department, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646464">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller recalls a confrontation with the New York City Police Department, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646465">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller remembers Adolf A. Berle, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646466">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller remembers Adolf A. Berle, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646467">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller recalls becoming an assistant U.S. attorney general</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646468">Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Melvin Miller talks about the founding of the Bay State Banner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646469">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of Melvin Miller's interview, session 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646470">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller describes the start of the Bay State Banner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646471">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller remembers Charles Stewart</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646472">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller talks about William Monroe Trotter</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646473">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller remembers the early years of the Bay State Banner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646474">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller recalls the first editor of the Bay State Banner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646475">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller describes the political climate of the 1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646476">Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller talks about the Moynihan Report of 1965, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646477">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller talks about the Moynihan Report of 1965, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646478">Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller talks about the urban renewal program in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646479">Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller talks about Edward Brooke's early election losses</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646480">Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller recalls the start of Operation Exodus in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646481">Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller remembers the busing crisis in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646482">Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller remembers Louise Day Hicks</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646483">Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller remembers the busing crisis in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646484">Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller remembers the violence during the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646485">Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller recalls the opening of the William Monroe Trotter School in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646486">Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller talks about the Bay State Banner's audience</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646487">Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller describes the Bay State Banner's financial challenges</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646488">Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller remembers the demonstration at the Grove Hall welfare center in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646489">Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller describes his efforts to increase black representation in the media</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646490">Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller recalls his involvement with the Unity Bank and Trust Company, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646491">Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller recalls his involvement with the Unity Bank and Trust Company, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646492">Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller describes his role in the standardization of the welfare system</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646493">Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller talks about the construction of the State Street Bank Building in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646494">Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller recalls running for U.S. Representative from Massachusetts in 1972</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646495">Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller recalls founding the law firm of Fitch, Miller and Tourse</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646496">Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller talks about the Bay State Banner's competitors</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646497">Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller describes his involvement with WHDH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646498">Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller remembers partnering with Jobs Clearing House, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646499">Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller describes his support for minority hiring at the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646500">Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Melvin Miller recalls serving as general counsel to WHDH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646501">Tape: 10 Story: 10 - Melvin Miller talks about the Bay State Banner's website</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646502">Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller describes the staff of the Bay State Banner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646503">Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller talks about the National Newspaper Publishers Association</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646504">Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller describes his involvement with the National Association of Black Journalists</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646505">Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller talks about the impact of the internet on the newspaper industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646506">Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller describes his plans for the future of the Bay State Banner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646507">Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Melvin Miller recalls his mentorship of young men in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646508">Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Melvin Miller talks about the problems in the education system</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646509">Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Melvin Miller remembers his mentorship of Tony Rose</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646510">Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Melvin Miller describes his concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646511">Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Melvin Miller describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646512">Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Melvin Miller reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646513">Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Melvin Miller describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646514">Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Melvin Miller talks about his family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/646515">Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Melvin Miller reflects upon his legacy</a>

DASession

1$2

DATape

6$10

DAStory

5$8

DATitle
Melvin Miller recalls a confrontation with the New York City Police Department, pt. 2
Melvin Miller describes his support for minority hiring at the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company
Transcript
So they formed a circle around me and pulled out their clubs and decided they were gonna beat me down. I said, "Wait a minute, before you do anything, I want you to know that I submit peacefully to arrest. And if you have a--if I violated a criminal law and you wanna arrest me, I submit peacefully to arrest. You have that? It's a clear statement right now. I'm not resisting arrest. Do you wanna arrest me?" They didn't even answer that. Then they started swinging their clubs, and then I--that's when my karate went into effect. It would--I'll never forget this. Is a--it was a--it was probably the most extensive use--one of the most extensive uses I've ever--I ever had to make of it, and--but I had a strategy. And I said first of all, I'm, I'm not gonna hurt these guys because some fool will pull a gun, and once the gun comes out everything goes wild. So what I did is I just took a stand. And I know how to move and prevent them from striking me, and I might just use my hand to push them off or something. There had to be four to six cops. No, there were more than four. There must have been the six 'cause there, there, there were lots of 'em, and it was amazing. If, if you watch them, it was almost like the keystone ca- police 'cause they were falling all over themselves 'cause I would--I mean, I--you know, to tell you the truth, I was pretty good, you know. And so I started--you know, I moved and they fell all over the place. Now I told them that I was waiting for a friend, and then while this fight was going on she came out. She said, "Oh my god! What's going on here?" And I said to her, "They didn't believe, didn't believe you were coming" (laughter). And so it was funny. These--half of the policemen were on the ground because they took a swing at me inbalance- you know, when you take a swing sometimes at a person you think you're gonna hit, you put too much weight on it and you don't hit; you keep going. Well that--a lot of that happened. And so there were two still standing, and the other policeman--I said--I walked by him and I said, "Why'd you allow something--," I said, "somebody could have really been hurt here." And they looked at me, didn't say anything, and I left. But isn't that awful? But guess what? I had in my breast pocket the federal department of justice [U.S. Department of Justice] identification with my photo and everything. What do you think would have happened if I'd have shown that to the first policeman? He'd have backed up, said, "Sorry, Mr. Miller [HistoryMaker Melvin Miller]." I said--but I identified with my brother too much. I said the man in the street doesn't have these things, and you don't have to show all this identification to be able to walk the streets (unclear). I had a three piece suit on. What did I look like, a thug? Come on. And I, I--you know, I just simply wasn't gonna tolerate it. And so--and if, if necessary I would have hurt them rather than let them hurt me.$$Well, some of the stories out of New--New York [New York] are--you know.$$Yeah.$$You, you might have been lucky that you didn't get shot, you know, but.$$Well, they were lucky because I don't think they could have beaten me. I mean, you, you had to remember, I was a younger man, you know. I was not the old man you're looking at, at that time (laughter). But that just shows the kind of world we live in and, and I was gonna--I was gonna--I was, I was sort of hoping in a sense that I would get arrested all the way down. And then--what, what--if--once I got arrested, I would--they would have had to come up with a charge. Then I'd laid it on 'em. I said, "Okay." I'd call the press. All of a sudden we got a lawsuit.$Another aspect that was really important at that time is a telephone company, New England Telephone [New England Telephone and Telegraph Company], which is now Verizon [Verizon New England, Inc.], didn't have any blacks at all in any serious position in the company. There was one guy I know who might have been some kind of engineer in the office, but it was a totally all white organization. But what had happened is that the, the chairman was about to retire, and he was terrified because somebody had filed an antidiscrimination lawsuit against Southern Bell [Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company; AT&T Inc.]. Now, telephone companies have to--telephone companies have to get approval and get licenses from the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], which imposes certain nondiscrimination rules and regulations against them. So he thought that sin- the situation was bad up here that it was just inevitable that somebody would come and bring a campaign. So I took adva- took advantage of this and met with them, and we started running a campaign to, to begin to hire blacks. And the most amazing thing is that when I first did it, I had a delegation of blacks come to my office and tell me that, that it was an abomination that I would run ads [in the Bay State Banner] from the New England telephone company when I should have known they don't hire blacks. And I, I said, "Yeah, but," I said, "we're going to now." He said, "No, what they're doing now is they're just--they're just trying to cover their butts and, and you guys are gonna make some money and make us look foolish. We go down there, they'll turn us out." And I said, "No, they won't, so we'll go down together and, and we'll set up employment offices." So I went down and said, "Look, you gotta set up employment offices in the black community; you guys have created a situation which is very bad," talking to the telephone company. And they understood it and they did it. The only--the only sad thing about it is that the campaign was so effective that it wasn't long before they found it unnecessary to run those big ads (laughter). I guess they found it unnecessary to run those big ads anymore and so we lost that revenue. But to show you how severe the resistance is, the whites' unions who are running the company at the levels that we are trying to get people employed, those white unions went on--they took a strike, rather than agree to the terms of--see, what they had done is they set up an employment ladder where you had to start at this level and then move up to A to B, C, D, and then you move up. We, we, we rejected that and I insisted that the company reject that, because I said you have to take in people who are qualified who had collater- had collateral experience at some other place. They don't have to be at the telephone company. Let's say they came from another telephone company doing the same thing. According to your system, they'd still have to start at this low level. That's crazy. And so that's, that's how we had to break the union to do this, and, and the union took a strike. The interesting thing is that when the Boston [Massachusetts] papers wrote about it, they never understood the nature of the strike. They never got it right. Now, I didn't write about it in the right kind of way because it would have been impolitic. You know what I mean? I would have had to--it, it, it would have--it would have held the telephone company up to a line of criticism, which we were--we had already moved beyond. The executives didn't care about it because it didn't affect them. But once it was really pointed out to them, they were willing to take a strike to stop it, and I wasn't--you, you see what I mean?$$Okay.$$So this--so that was--to me, there was a lot of work like that changing the environment in Boston that, that we were able to do.

Georgia Mae Dunston

Geneticist Georgia Mae Dunston was born in Norfolk, Virginia on August 4, 1944 to a working class family. As a child, Dunston developed an interest in the biology of race and decided to continue her study of biology after graduating from high school. She earned her B.S. degree in biology from Norfolk State University in 1965 and her M.S. degree in biology from Tuskegee University in 1967. Dunston went on to study at the University of Michigan, finishing her Ph.D. degree in human genetics in 1972. She then accepted a position at Howard University Medical Center as an assistant professor which she held from 1972 to 1978.

From 1975 to 1976, Dunston completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute where she studied tumor immunology. She later served as a scientist there in an immunodiagnosis lab that was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At Howard, Dunston was appointed director of the human immunogenetics laboratory in 1985. At this time, she focused her research on diseases that are common in the black community as well as genes and immune reactions that are unique to African American populations. From 1991 to 1994, Dunston served as associate director of the Division of Basic Sciences at Howard University Cancer Center. She was promoted to full professor in the Department of Microbiology at Howard in 1993 and became chair of the department in 1998. Inspired by the Human Genome Project, begun in 1990, Dunston focused her attention on the genetic heritage of the African American population. Dunston’s work in human genetics and diversity resulted in her founding the National Human Genome Center at Howard in 2001.

Dunston is the recipient of several awards including the Howard University College of Medicine Outstanding Research Award, NAACP Science Achievement Award and the Howard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Graduate Faculty Member Award. She has been a member of the National Advisory Council for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Sigma Xi and the National Academy of Sciences Review Committee on Human Genome Diversity Project. Georgia Mae Dunston lives in Washington, D.C.

Georgia Dunston was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 4, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.088

Sex

Female

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

5/4/2012

Last Name

Dunston

Maker Category
Middle Name

Mae

Occupation
Schools

Norfolk State University

Tuskegee University

University of Michigan

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Georgia

Birth City, State, Country

Norfolk

HM ID

DUN05

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Oceans

Favorite Quote

All things are possible to the one that believes.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

8/4/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chinese Food

Short Description

Geneticist Georgia Mae Dunston (1944 - ) is professor in the Department of Microbiology at Howard University and the founding director of the National Human Genome Center.

Employment

National Cancer Institute

Howard University Hospital

Howard University

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21352">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Georgia Mae Dunston's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21353">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21354">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21355">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her mother's growing up in Princess Anne County, Virginia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21356">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Georgia Mae Dunston discusses her father's unique name</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21357">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21358">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her patrilineal ancestors</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21359">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her father's education and social background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21360">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her father's near death experience and religious enlightenment</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21361">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her family's religious background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21362">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes how her parents met</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21363">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21364">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21365">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her siblings and growing up in Norfolk</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21366">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21367">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Georgia Mae Dunston reflects upon her experiences and interests as a young girl</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21368">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about being introduced to philosophy and science</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21369">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Georgia Mae Dunston discusses what distinguished her from her siblings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21370">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her interest in biology, skin tone bias and race</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21371">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her transition to Ruffner Junior High School during the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21372">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her experience at Booker T. Washington High School, and her desire to become a biologist</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21373">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about receiving a state scholarship to attend college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21374">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about being a first generation college student</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21375">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Georgia Mae Dunston recalls some of her influential college professors and peers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21376">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her peers at Norfolk State University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21377">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston remembers getting her first 'C' and learning biology in college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21378">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about graduating from college and searching for employment opportunities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21379">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her introduction to the field of genetics</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21380">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her experience with academic challenges, love and heartbreak at Tuskegee University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21381">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her decision to pursue a Ph.D. degree at the University of Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21382">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes how her experience with research expanded her scholarly opportunities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21383">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about George Washington Carver</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21384">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Georgia Mae Dunston comments upon being unaware of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment while she was at Tuskegee University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21385">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about being the only African American in the human genetics program at the University of Michigan in the mid-1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21386">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about exploring different belief systems at the University of Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21387">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about the study of human genetics being influenced by social stereotypes</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21388">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about race and genetics</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21389">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her doctoral work on characterizing a human blood-group variant first found in a native South American population</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21390">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about receiving an opportunity to pursue a post-doc at Howard University and NIH</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21391">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her relationship with her doctoral advisor</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21392">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about Dr. Willie Turner's role in her appointment at Howard University and the NIH</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21393">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about Dr. Willie Turner's mentorship at Howard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21394">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her first experience with the NIH research grant process</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21395">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about African American geneticists and Howard University's program in human genetics</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21396">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes the establishment of the doctoral program and the first doctoral students in microbiology at Howard University in the 1970s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21397">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her role in establishing the Human Immunogenetics Laboratory at Howard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21398">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her work in the field of immunogenetics</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21399">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about the role of the Howard Immunogenetics Laboratory in providing clinical services for the transplant program</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21400">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about how Howard University became involved in the Human Genome Project - part one</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21401">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about how Howard University became involved in the Human Genome Project - part two</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21402">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her initial meeting with Francis Collins in the 1990s, and her involvement with studying the genetics of diabetes in Africans</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21403">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her involvement with starting the African American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21404">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about recruiting geneticist, Rick Kittles, to the African American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study at Howard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21405">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about Rick Kittles' departure from the African American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study at Howard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21406">Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about factors that affect gene expression and regulation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21407">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Georgia Mae Dunston reflects upon her legacy and talks about the genetic basis of diversity in humans</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21408">Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Georgia Mae Dunston describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community today</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21409">Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about her family and reflects upon her career's findings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/21410">Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Georgia Mae Dunston talks about how she would like to be remembered, and describes the power of understanding the human genome</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$7

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Georgia Mae Dunston talks about the study of human genetics being influenced by social stereotypes
Georgia Mae Dunston talks about how Howard University became involved in the Human Genome Project - part one
Transcript
But in genetics, I just remember sitting in that class [at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan] being conscious of being black, and they're talking about black genes and white genes and black this gene. And I honestly believed that there were black genes and white genes. That's why I'm so sensitized at this point in time, almost thirty, thirty-five years later, still in a mindset of trying to tie genetics of biology to black and white, you know, with this racial construct. And, and part of, sort of my whole story going out of--I think I've been called and blessed to be where I am, at the time that I am, meaning, genome project and all because if we don't get it right, if we don't get it biologically, we're gonna miss out on the tremendous power that the science has to bring.$$Now, let me ask you, what was the current, the thinking in 1967 about race and genetics? I mean can you kind of boil it down?$$Just like our (laughter), just like our thinking about society in general, that the--and because we're dealing with medicine, the focus is on disease, okay. I'm in medicine, which is different from public health. So the focus is on medicine. So when you look at it at a population level, and when you look at it through society with a racial construct, the genetics is seen and taught in that way too. So we have black diseases, white diseases. Never mind the fact that all blacks don't have it, but because it's more common, it gets the label of that kind of disease. Sickle cell [anemia], a black disease. Many blacks have anemia that's not based in a sickle cell. Some whites have anemia that is based in sickle cell, but because we have this categorization, it carries over in even how we handle our healthcare. Even to the big studies that were done in the '80s [1980s] about how a physician factors in the person's quote "race" into their diagnosis, into their recommendations for care, based on what's common or generally known, not based on the individual. See, the big push now in medicine is this whole term "personalized medicine" that's really driven by the knowledge growing in the genetic basis of biology. But we're still stuck in our old constructs that are really compromising the power of our new technologies and techniques, and that's part of the scholarly work that we have to do in terms of shedding light. But my point is simply this, that I was interested in human genetics at a time where it was taught as science, but still taught through the lenses of a racists society, racists in terms of constructs, not in--$$Well, give me an example.$$I don't mean racists in terms of anybody treating me differently.$$I understand. Give me an example of what you mean?$$Just like I, the clearest example is this whole idea that I heard all the time. Black gene, white gene. I actually thought black folk had a gene that you could describe as clearly as in blacks. This is a gene in black folk. And I'm thinking because you got the black gene and the white gene, that white folk don't have this gene that we call black gene (laughter), okay. One time, it was so bad, I really expected, at that time, we were looking directly at the gene. We were looking at the footprints or the, really the expressions, if you will, the footprints, with skin color being one. But sickle cell being one of your first classic genetic diseases, okay. That was, that's one of the hallmark, genetic diseases. And it was the chairman of our department, Dr. Neal, who really was instrumental in tying sickle cell to the malaria environment and actually working out the fact that the presence of a sickle cell gene actually was contributing to the adaptive advantage or the survival of people in an environment where malaria could be a threat to life, okay, working that out. But my point is, my, I'm in human genetics so my study and what we're looking at is genes related to disease in people, okay. And because we have this way of looking at people and grouping people, that influences how we communicate, how we interpret, how we see the data. And so I would hear all the time, black gene, white gene. Those were common terms, so much so that I really thought that there were genes that were present in blacks that weren't present in whites and genes for whites and that these lined up with what we call black and white.$Okay, now, let me ask you about this. Now, I wanna ask you about the role that Howard [University, Washington, District of Columbia] played, that you all here at Howard played in the Human Genome Project beginning in 1990?$$Well, you see, building up to 1990 also I had done another, and this is how I kept my--I was able to, I have been able to keep my research active because of the physical location of NIH [National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland], beginning with the post-doc. And then I was going back periodically to reboot, to realign. So during the opportunity to develop the immunogenetics lab, I did another visiting investigator stint at NIH with the [National] Cancer Institute [NCI]. But this time, I was looking at--my interest in human immunogenetics was growing--actually, one before that was the NK, when the NCI moved to Frederick [Maryland] and I was there. But let me say this, Howard, how we got tied to the genome project, the genome project was perking up to officially start in 1990, okay, as a formal fifteen-year project. When it was first envisioned, formally starting in 1990 to be a fifteen-year project to complete sequencing of the genome. Now, in the late '80s [1980s] there, we were sensitive from HLA [human leukocyte antigen], okay. Another change that was occurring was Howard had recruited George Bonney who is a statistical geneticist who had come out of New Orleans [Louisiana] with a big statistical group there. He was recruited to this same program that, I had the immunogenetics lab [Human Immunogenetics Laboratory, Howard University]. He came to head our bio-statistics lab. And I mention him because he's coming now in the, in the early, mid-80s [1980s], I don't know exactly. But the point is, he's coming to head statistical, the statistics core, and we, he's part of this RCMI [Research Centers in Minority Institutions] program. And he and I meet, and we talk, and he tells me, Georgia, HLA, which is what I'm studying, this human antigen, he's saying that your work here is foundational for the big project that's really on the way, and we're talking big project--he's saying this, the human genome project. I didn't know about the human genome project before he came because he's now coming out of the group that's doing the planning of the statistics for this work, how we're gonna analyze this data. That's the group he's coming out of. But he tells me, we need to have a genetics resource here that's part of the genome project. He also, he's not--, he's Ghanaian. And he was in touch with the French folk that were big on human genetic polymorphism institute there [Paris, France] called CEPH, the Center for the Study of Human Polymorphisms. The bottom line is, he introduces me to his colleagues, tells them about my work in HLA, but saying that I need to be thinking of having something comparable to their study of polymorphisms. Actually, we go to Paris to look at their set up and to really meet these folks. So George kind of introduced me to the community that was planning and working with plans for the genome project. So we write a grant from Howard to have a genome resource at Howard, a resource for genomic studies at Howard. At that time, we called it GRAAP, Genomic Research in African American Pedigrees, okay, GRAAP was the name. We, all excited because George is saying, you've gotta have, you're gonna have to come to us to have resources of black 'cause at that time, and true enough, all of the resources that the folk gearing up for the genome project working with all of these resources are from white populations. This was a heady time, but suffice it to say, our grant was not even close to being funded.