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Civil Rights Veteran to Share Story at Waldorf College MLK Convocation

Jason Eck

Iowa native Patti Miller, who as a young activist helped catapult the civil rights movement into the national spotlight in the mid-1960s, will tell her inspiring story during the MLK Convocation at 10:15 a.m. Monday, Jan. 17 in the Atrium on the Waldorf College campus.

"We are fortunate to have the opportunity hear Patti Miller's story, to learn more about this period of our history from someone who had the courage to take an active role in the movement and who carries on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message through her activities today," said Amy Hill, Waldorf library director and a member of the Convocation Committee.

Miller, who was born in Algona, said she looks forward to her first visit to Waldorf.

"The main reason I love to speak to students is because I was a student myself when I got involved in the civil rights movement. And it changed my life," Miller said. "I became so much more aware of the world and others' needs as a result of my involvement and I hope to inspire students today to be participants in their lives and others' (lives), rather than spectators."

Miller grew up in Jefferson, Iowa, an all-white rural community. As a student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1960s, Miller decided to join hundreds of young activists in the Freedom Summer project of 1964 in Mississippi.

Miller and other students helped with voter registration and worked in freedom schools and community centers while living with local black families. That summer changed Miller's life. During her time in Meridian, Miss., three fellow workers were found slain by members of the Ku Klux Klan. This was among the pivotal incidents that brought the attention of the nation to the problems of segregation.

Later, Miller returned to college and was instrumental in convincing Drake University officials to pass nondiscriminatory housing laws for students. After graduating from college, Miller became involved in the Chicago Freedom Movement and worked with King, Andrew Young, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others to begin to confront discrimination in Northern cities. She later taught music at the largest all-black inner-city high school in Chicago.

During her speech, titled "What I Didn't Know: A White Woman's Journey through the Civil Rights Movement," Miller will share photographs and read excerpts from a book she is writing by the same name and a journal she kept during the summer of 1964.

Waldorf acknowledges King and the civil rights movement each year by hosting a speaker for MLK Convocation on his observed birthday. Hill explained why Miller's message is relevant.

"We like to think that today, decades past the turmoil of the '60s and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that racism and related social problems are no longer the issues they once were," Hill said. "Society has changed, but problems persist. It is important to continue to recognize the work that was done during Martin Luther King Jr.'s lifetime, but our MLK Day speakers also help us to understand the numerous challenges that still exist."

Miller, who lives in Fairfield, Iowa, now shares her story with high school and college students in an effort to bring awareness of the importance of personal involvement in social issues.

Waldorf, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1903, delivers engaging experiences through innovative classroom instruction. The college offers residential and online bachelor's degree programs such as music, theater, sociology, physical education, fire science administration and criminal justice administration.

For more information about the MLK Convocation, call Hill at (641) 585-8672 or