Progress since slavery
In this excerpt, Miller describes how his competitive attitude powered his career. In describing his own passion for winning, he recalls his family's progress from slavery to doctoral degrees. Remembering his family history reminds Miller of his recent losses, and the interview ends shortly thereafter.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Leroy Miller, June 8, 1998. Interview K-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
PG: I know I could talk to you for hours more. I’ve gotten just bits of all of your experience. I appreciate your doing this. I did have one more question, if it’s okay. I was wondering when you became principal at these different schools, I know you were concerned about being a good principal and concerned about the students. Were you also thinking about being one of the first black principals at some of these schools.
LM: No. I resent that, first black. That’s come up any number of times, but to me I’ve always wanted to be a good person. When I go out and cut my grass, I want my yard to look better than any yard in this neighborhood. Anything that I do I want it to be the best, period. Nobody had a prettier wife than I had. She was a beautiful lady, and I tried to provide for her. I tried to provide her with all of the conveniences that any other person had, any other lady had. I did my best to do that. And I think the same thing is true. I’d say to the kids I wanted them to be the best in the state of North Carolina, and I wanted to be the best principal in the state. I didn’t want to be second to nobody. I didn’t hide it, either. I always wanted to be the best. I was watching the game last night with some friends, the Bulls and the Jazz. I said, “Listen, Michael Jordan could play anywhere. He’s a winner, and he don’t want nobody around him that’s not winners.” I’ve always felt the same way. I don’t want no losers around me. I want to surround myself with the smartest people I could find, people like Barbara Ledford. I can name all those good teachers I had. They were smart people, and they had a contribution to make. They followed through with it. You don’t go around with a bunch of losers. I don’t like that. I don’t even want to be associated with people like that. In fact, I was over at our church. We’re in the process of putting down some new carpeting there. We moved all the seats, half of them. I’ve got to go back over there this afternoon. That’s the reason I said from one to four. We’re going to remove the others and put the carpeting down in the church. I’m one generation away from slavery. My grandfathers on my mother’s side and father’s side were slaves. My grandfather had several brothers and they had the same mamma and the same daddy, but they had different names because as one of the daughters would get married they’d be given to the daughters. They would take that name. My father finished about the fourth or fifth grade. My mother went back to high school. I came from a family of ten. All ten of us finished high school. All ten of us finished college. There’s about three or four with PhDs and all the rest of them have got masters, and it was all because of where we lived. Our property was right here and Livingstone College’s farm was right there. My daddy was a blacksmith ( ) railroad track. We had about twenty-five acres and it was right next to Livingstone Farm. In the afternoons my daddy would come home and he would come straight out to the field, especially this time of year we’d be hoeing cotton. President Tripp would be coming down to the farm because he had one of those little surreys, and he had a walking horse. He’d be bringing the horse back up, and he’d always stop. He’d say to my daddy, “You’re teaching them how to work.” When he’d leave my daddy used to say to all of us, there were four boys, and we’d be out there. He’d say, “You see there, when you get an education you can wear Sunday clothes every day. You don’t have to wear these overalls. You see there what an education will do for you.” Picking that cotton and hoeing that cotton, I had enough of that. When I got to the point where I could go to school, I wanted to go to school. Now we’ve still got the home place, and I’ve got one of the prettiest gardens you’ve ever seen up there. I’ve got two tillers up there, and I’ve got a riding lawn mower. I do all that stuff. In ’87 and ’88 we restored the home place. Then I had an aneurysm, and I was out in ’89. By the time we got to the point where we were really enjoying ourselves my wife passed. I still get despondent. I look around and I wonder. God knows best though. He knows how much you can bear, but in the last four years I lost a wife, two sisters and a brother. I’m seventy-eight years old, and I’m still here. I guess it’s God’s will. He left me here for something. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things. Any more questions?
PG: I think that that will about do it. Is there anything else that you feel that you’d like to say.
LM: No, mam. If there’s anything I can do that’s going be useful to you or young people, that’s what God left me here for.
PG: That seems like a pretty good reason to me. It seems like you have much to say. Well, I hope that this project will do that.
LM: The racists can get along. They can get along. I look at India and Pakistan, and sometimes I wonder. I hope and pray to God that we never get like that in this country. It bothers me when they want to do certain things around here. But to me I always thought we were serving the same God. People do some funny things.