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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEE: Geraldine Y. Miller
INTERVIEWER: Renee Eaton
March 3, 1988
E: This is Renee Eaton, and I am interviewing Mrs. Geraldine Y.
Miller. The date is March 3, 1988. The time is 4:30 p.m.
I am interviewing Mrs. Miller at her residence [1315 SE 11th
Avenue, Gainesville]. The subject of this interview is a
life history of Mrs. Geraldine Miller. Mrs. Miller, will
you introduce yourself, please?
M: I am Geraldine Youngblood Fields Miller.
E: Mrs. Miller, where were you born?
M: I was born in Palm Beach County, Delray Beach, Florida. It
was formerly known as Linton, Florida, but later it was
changed to Delray Beach, Florida. That is a small town just
south of West Palm Beach. One town runs into another, and
that happens to be one in the chain.
E: When were you born?
M: I was born March 16, 1926.
E: Will you trace your education for me, please?
M: I started elementary school at a very early age. I guess it
was because my mother was teaching school at that time, and
she used to take me to school with her. I went through high
school and graduated at the age of sixteen; I graduated from
Carver High School as salutatorian of the class. From there
I went on to Hampton Institute [in Hampton, Virginia], which
has become Hampton University. I matriculated there for
four years. At the age of twenty I graduated. I taught
school for two years, and then I decided that I wanted to go
back to school to get a master's degree. It was then I went
to Fisk University, located in Nashville, Tennessee.
E: What degrees did you acquire?
M: I earned a B.S. in the field of English [with a minor in]
music from Hampton Institute and a master's in musicology
from Fisk University.
E: Would you please describe your parents' method of child
M: My parents were very caring and loving people. They were
relatively strict. Being an only child and a young lady, I
guess they felt that they had to be. They wanted me to have
the best of everything, and many opportunities were made
available to me by them because they wanted me to have
things that would improve my quality of life. I guess that
is about it. They were liberal, and they saw to it that I
was exposed to things at an early age culturally and
E: What jobs did your parents hold?
M: As I said, my mother taught school for forty-six years--
elementary education. My dad was an insurance agent, a
chef/cook, and a realtor. And they owned rental property,
both of them.
E: What was it like growing up in the South before the civil
M: I was perhaps sheltered so much that a lot of experiences
that some may have felt I did not feel. As a matter of
fact, I do not recall negative insults being thrown my way.
Perhaps that was because, as a southerner, we "knew our
places" anyway. Things that might have been objectionable
we did not try to do. We knew where to go and what to do.
If I could not drink any water from the fountain at that
time, it did not bother me because I did not care to drink
at the water fountain anyway, or use the rest room. That
did not bother me as a child growing up. But I know the
signs were there before the 1960s; they were there. But as
I said, by being a southerner and knowing just how far to
go, you just did not do it, so the insults were not hurled.
E: Did you have a religious upbringing?
M: Yes, I did. My parents were very religious. My dad was a
Baptist, and all of his people were Baptist. My mother was
an African Methodist Episcopal member, and all her people
were AMEs. So I was between the two. As a child, I
attended many services in the Baptist church and other times
in the Methodist church. When I joined the church myself, I
joined the Methodist church.
E: Who fostered your musical upbringing?
M: My mother did. She played the piano. She was a musician,
and she saw to it that I took music. I do not recall as a
very young child ever taking music from a music teacher in
Delray. We had to travel to West Palm Beach, which was only
about fifteen miles away. But that was just a nice ride,
and I remember going to West Palm Beach to take music from
an outstanding pianist, an outstanding musician at that
time. We used to go there once a week on Saturdays.
E: Did you ever use your music or your piano playing as a job?
M: No, because I was relatively young. I did not have a job
prior to going away to college. I did play for the church
as a youngster, as a teenager. When I went away to school,
that was it. I did not get a job until I finished college.
I used it after that, but not before.
E: As a child, what other activities were you involved in other
M: Well, I did a little acting in high school. I remember as a
senior I had one of the leading roles in the high school
play. It was a dramatic role, and I did very, very well. I
surprised myself, as well as the others, I suppose, in the
community. I did that, and I played basketball and tennis.
I used to love tennis as a youngster. There were no tennis
courts that we could use, so we played in the street. We
would get out there and serve the ball. We also played on
the school grounds. But that was about it.
E: Can you remember the name of the role you played?
M: I surely do not. That has been a long time ago. I do not
even remember the title of the play at this point.
E: Did you enter college at Hampton with the idea that you were
going to be a teacher?
M: No, I did not. I went there not knowing what field I was
going into. At the time, we did not have guidance
counselors to try to steer us in the right direction. My
mother had talked to me prior to my going. At that time,
about all you could do, I guess, was teach, preach, or be a
doctor or lawyer. But I still did not think I was going to
end up teaching school. I do not know what I was planning
to do. I just ended up in the field of general studies,
which was not an education field, although we were required
to take some education courses, the basic courses. But I
did not plan to teach.
E: How did it come about that you went to college at the age of
M: Well, that happened because, as I said, I started school at
a very early age. At the risk of sounding immodest--I am
not really being that--I suppose I was a precocious child,
and I did skip a grade. I do not think that they allow you
to skip grades now as they did then. Now you have to be six
years old before you can be in first grade, but that was not
the case then. So by going early and skipping a grade, I
was able to graduate at sixteen.
E: How did you handle the social aspects of college along with
the academics, being younger than your classmates?
M: Well, I was in a group in which there was one other young
lady who was sixteen, also. There were about six of us who
ran together, and we remained friends throughout college and
after college. I guess I handled it well, except that I am
sure at that age I was not mature enough to be as sincere
about my studies as I should have been. Socially, I mixed
in well and took part in campus activities, mostly music
activities. I belonged to what was then equivalent to a
sorority, I suppose. It was called the Phyllis Wheatley
Literary Society, and it was one of the leading social clubs
on the campus. I was a member of the choir and vocal
ensemble, and I was student conductor for the choir while I
was there. It was not until I entered graduate school that
I really recognized the true value of an education and the
importance of studying to get one. That was not there
E: What led to your becoming a teacher?
M: As I said, that was about all you could do really. After
I graduated from Hampton Institute, there really was not
anything else for me to do, unless I had gone into the field
of acting or had wanted to be an artist in applied music. I
had not majored in music; I had only minored in music at
Hampton. I was interested in conducting. But when I
graduated, that was about all I could really get into, and I
needed the job. I wanted a job, so I ended up teaching
English and music at Pinellas High School in Clearwater,
Florida, in 1946.
E: You acquired a musicology degree from Fisk University. How
were you able to transfer a musicology degree into
M: Well, musicology has to do with the scientific study of
music in every respect. It involves theory, music history,
and any phase of historical analysis of composition, you
might say. I did teach music theory and music history in
high school. At first I wanted to go into college-level
teaching, but I did not get in and ended up in the public
Fortunately, when I was hired, I was hired as a music
teacher. We did introduce a program of music studies other
than just chorus and band at Lincoln High School [here in
Gainesville]. I had general music, where I was able to
teach music appreciation to the students, and I had music
theory classes and music history classes. So that worked
E: Growing up as a child and as a teenager, did you stay in the
South? Did you travel ever outside of it?
M: Yes. My mother and I were very close because I was an only
child, and she was an only child. She saw to it that every
summer, as far back as I can remember, we would travel. We
would go to New York. We had friends up there, and we had
friends in Philadelphia. She always saw to it that we went
so that I could be exposed to the art galleries, the
museums, the Broadway plays, and the operas. I remember one
of my first visits to Carnegie Hall. That has been so long
ago I cannot even remember now what I went to see, but just
the idea of being there [was thrilling]. So we did a
considerable bit of traveling.
E: Did you ever have any desire to perform?
M: No, I did not. I do not think I ever thought I was good
enough to perform. I did not go into applied music as such
in school. I was more or less interested in teaching it,
not going on the stage as a performer.
E: Will you trace your teaching career for me, please?
M: My first job was at Pinellas High School in Clearwater,
Florida, and I taught there for two years--English and
music. After receiving a degree from Fisk [University], I
was hired at Lincoln High School [in Gainesville]. I came
here in 1951, and I have been here ever since. I taught at
the old Lincoln High School, and then we moved into the new
Lincoln High School until it closed at the time of
integration, which was the school year 1969/1970.
From there, I was sent to Buchholz High School. At that
time, we were sharing the building with Westwood [Middle
School]. I remember I had a class in humanities at Westwood
while we were sharing that building until Buchholz High
School could be built. From there I went to the new
Buchholz High School for four years. I was there until
Then I decided to get out of music. I had taught music for
a very long time, and I got out altogether because there I
had music classes and English classes, and that was
grueling. So I came out of music and went into English
full-time at Eastside [High School]. I was there from 1974
until 1981, when I retired.
E: You mentioned integration. When integration occurred in
1970, did you have to switch any of your teaching methods as
a result of teaching a different class make-up, going from
teaching only black students to integrated classrooms?
M: No, I did not find that the methods I had used earlier were
any different. There was one thing I did notice in the
voice classes or in the choruses or ensembles or soloists or
what have you. There is a difference in resonance, in the
sound that I had been able to get with the black students
that was lacking with the integrated classes, because voices
of whites tended to be lighter in timbre. It was a
different sound. But I do not think it had anything to do
with any teaching method; it did not affect the methods that
I was using. I did not have any problem.
E: What type of music did your choruses sing at Lincoln before
M: Well, being a very young and enthusiastic choral director
from Hampton [Institute] and from Fisk [University], I
brought with me many of the songs we had sung there.
Really, I was able to teach some of these songs to my high
school vocal groups. We sang songs that were by the choral
artists of the time. J. S. Bach was one of my favorite
composers, and we did do some songs by Bach. We did some of
Handel's music and some of Brahms and Mozart. But we also
did spirituals, arranged spirituals, and patriotic numbers
that were arranged. One of my favorite arrangements is the
"Battle Hymn of the Republic" by [Peter] Wilhousky. I also
like the arrangement for band and chorus by [Roy] Ringwald.
We did those with the band. They were always house
favorites. We did Broadway musical tunes, too. I guess you
might say we ran the the gamut of sacred music and secular
We had a lot of opportunities to perform, because chorus was
one of the big organizations on the campus, and for every
activity that was held in the auditorium, we had to provide
music. I know that for black people, commencement time was
one of the big events in our community, and we did
performances almost like concerts for baccalaureate and
commencement. The people turned out in large numbers for
class night and all during the year. The annual Christmas
concert was one thing that people just looked forward to
hearing during the time that I was there at Lincoln. It was
a big affair for us. All during that time, if we were not
singing in school for activities, we were singing at
churches in the neighborhood. The choruses do not do that
E: Why, do you think?
M: Why? That required extra work. Then too, I really do not
think as much importance is placed now on music. They call
music classes "frills" a lot. I think that activities that
involve a lot of out-of-school time do not have as much
emphasis on them, and chorus happens to be one of the
courses that is considered a frill.
E: Did you consider performance, at that time, as a means of
furthering music education or simply for public relation
purposes for the school?
M: Yes, I think that music has always been in the role of
public relations for black schools, I will say. A lot of
colleges get revenue from groups going around singing, and
it brings recognition to their schools. Tuskegee Institute
[in Tuskegee, Alabama] was noted for its choir, which
brought the school a lot of recognition. Hampton Institute
was noted for the same thing. The Fisk Jubilee Singers came
here in concert about a month ago, and that is still
bringing recognition. Bethune-Cookman College [is another].
Florida A & M University's [marching] band and their
choruses have always [actively represented those black
colleges]. I guess you might say that we kind of looked on
it, too, as P.R.
E: During your graduate years, were you a member of the [Fisk]
M: No, I was not a member of the Jubilee Singers, but I was a
member of the choir, the Fisk University Choir, and we
traveled around a lot. I remember when we sang at the
Chicago Opera House. That was my first time having been to
Chicago, but it was quite an experience for me, just to be
able to say that we had been there. I had belonged to a
vocal ensemble, but it was not the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
E: Going back to your teaching years, did your selection of
music change as a result of the integrated chorus?
M: I would say somewhat; I think it changed. We did not have
the variety. Some of the music was very difficult that we
had at Lincoln, and I think the students took more pride in
belonging to the chorus. Then some of the activities we
participated in were a little more varied and more frequent
than when we integrated. Because of the lightness of the
voices, some of the [musical] numbers I just did not try.
As to the degree of difficulty, for festival participation
there is a prescribed list, and you have to select from
that. There were numbers that we did that I chose because
they were more suitable to the type voices I had. I suppose
that automatically changed a little.
E: While teaching at Lincoln, did you take your choruses to
M: Yes, we went to competitions every year. Of course, they
were all segregated, but the competition was fierce because
everybody wanted to get superior ratings. I suppose you
might say we were very fortunate to have acquired quite a
number of superior ratings. The adjudicators were not
always black. There were some very good adjudicators,
people coming in to judge our choruses. We always had
adjudicators from the college level, from the schools in the
state, including the University of Florida. There were
quite a few professors who always came to hear our group
sing and to judge us. So we participated in everything
there was to participate in.
E: Did your chorus at Buchholz receive superior ratings?
M: The choruses did not receive superior ratings at Buchholz,
but the ensemble did. I guess that was because they were a
little more mature. I will just say the ensemble received
superior ratings. I had that occur several times.
E: Integration occurred in the middle of the school year, at
the beginning of the second semester of 1970. How did your
black students react to the closing of Lincoln High School?
M: I remember vividly the students did everything they could to
keep Lincoln High School open, because that school meant a
lot to them. The kids who were graduating in June certainly
did not want to be uprooted to go to another school. But
after demonstrating, after meeting with the administrators,
after marching in the streets and tearing up the lockers in
the hallways in the building when they found out they were
actually going to have to close, [they still had no choice].
They overturned lockers. They were really quite upset about
it. Not only the students, but teachers were upset, too.
The people in the community were upset, because, as I said,
that was a focal point for our community activities, and in
many instances it still is. There are a lot of community
activities still held over there even now. I do not think
that they really accepted it ever, even when they had to
make the transition. Our seniors joined the senior class at
Gainesville High School, but they were not happy about it at
E: Did black parent or black community involvement in schools
decrease after integration?
M: I think so. I think the black participation in a lot of
activities decreased. If you look now, you do not find
nearly the number of black students in band, chorus, or
student government. You see a few, but not in large
numbers. In the forensic clubs, in the key clubs on
campuses, in the honor society you see a few, but not that
many. In the drama clubs you do not see that many. I do
not know the reason for it, but I know the participation is
not there. For that very reason, you would have to say that
the black parents are not participating as much. We do
participate in sports.
E: Why do you think that blacks would be more prone to
participate in sports rather than the other activities you
M: Well, it might be to them they can see success. They see
big bucks. They see athletes receiving large salaries, so
they tend to go out [for sports]. For many young blacks,
the athletes are their heroes--they are their idols--so it
is easy to start in athletics. You see black children
playing in the street. They play sandlot [games].
E: Why do you think that black students are more prone to enter
athletics rather than other activities in the schools?
M: I think it is because of the success rate of athletes,
although young people do not realize that only about 10
percent of the athletes who go out really make it. There
are so many people out there competing. You have to be very
good to get in. Plus you are always faced with injury, and
you never know when that is going to occur.
I can speak to that, because [that happened to] my son,
Wayne Gazelle Fields, who was an outstanding athlete as a
child, even from midget league on. I remember when he and
Vince McGee were the only two black boys in the Little
League softball team, and they played up until he went into
junior high school. Then he went into football. He was
an outstanding quarterback. He went from Howard Bishop
Middle School to Gainesville High School, and he played
football there. He was co-captain along with David Ayers,
who is now a banker at First Union, of the basketball team.
Wayne won many awards in high school and was elected to the
hall of fame in high school. He received a football
scholarship at the University of Florida. He co-holds the
record for the highest number of career interceptions out at
Florida. He played there hoping, I know, to be a
professional ball player.
But, unfortunately, during his senior year, he was injured,
and that ended his football career. He did get drafted by
the Pittsburgh Steelers at the end of his senior year, but
that was to no avail. He went there for two weeks and re-
injured his knee. He was then put on waivers, and he has
not been able to participate in strenuous sports since.
E: Did your musical accomplishments have any affect on your
M: I guess you might say yes. My mother saw to it that I was
involved in music coming up as a youngster, [and that
influence was continued by me to my son]. Wayne was a part
of the string program in middle school and in high school.
He played the cello as well as the double bass in the string
orchestra here, the [Alachua County] Youth Orchestra. There
were two blacks in that orchestra while he was in high
school. They were my son (Wayne Fields) and Jennifer Jones.
Well, at the end of high school, he dropped music when he
went into football. But you might say he is involved in
music even now, because he went on to school to major in
journalism and broadcasting. He is into that now. He is
owner of WONE and Music Express, and he has operated a
record store. Of course, they do not have the record store
now; they had to sell that. But he has been into
E: So, in effect, your son was a trailblazer in terms of
integrating community organizations such as the Little
League and the Alachua County Youth Orchestra.
M: Yes, I guess you might say that.
E: If I may go back, what led to your decision to come to
M: My decision to come to Gainesville was purely a personal
one. I had a fiance at that time who was a dentist in St.
Augustine. St. Augustine was located very near Gainesville,
so I decided to come to Gainesville to be near him. Of
course, eventually, we were married, and we were here.
Well, that was Julius Gazelle Fields, who was a local
dentist. He commuted from St. Augustine to Gainesville on
weekends, and he practiced here. He had built up a very
nice practice. But later he passed on, and that led to my
coming to Gainesville. I had only intended to be here five
years, but, as you see, I am still here. Later on, I
married Jerry Cyril Miller, who was a musician at Lincoln
High School. We eventually got together and were married
for quite some time. He is deceased now, also.
E: What did he teach at Lincoln?
M: He was the band director, the one and only band director
that Lincoln High School ever had. He came here in 1946 and
established the Lincoln High School band. From the old
school he moved into the new school until integration.
There has been no other band director at Lincoln.
He built up a terrific following. The number of awards that
the band received were just innumerable. They seldom went
to competition and came back with anything less than a
superior. The parents were always behind him. After
integration, when he went to Howard Bishop Middle School,
the reception was just as great for him as it had been at
Lincoln High School. The kids loved him, and so did the
E: Did the two of you ever collaborate with musical activities?
M: Yes, we did. There is one in particular I remember. We
directed Bye Bye Birdie, our first Broadway musical at
Lincoln High School. That was performed for the students in
the county. They were bused in for day performances, and we
had night performances. We also made a record of that
performance. I directed it; he had taught the band, but I
ended up directing both groups together, the chorus and
band. It was very, very successful, I must say. I think
that was my most triumphant musical experience.
The band and chorus often did numbers together for the
Christmas concerts and for some of the commencement numbers.
As I said, "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was one of our
favorites. We used to perform that together all the time.
E: How did you manage to combine the roles of wife, mother, and
M: Oh, I would like to back up a little, if I may, because I
almost forgot this. I was the composer of the Lincoln High
School alma mater. I must say that I wrote the words to
that and the music, except for one closing phrase. I had to
ask Jerry how to end that phrase. I got hung up on that and
did not quite know how to close it, and he helped me with
that. I would like for it to be in the records that I am
the composer of the alma mater.
E: Are they still using that same alma mater?
M: Oh, yes, they do. Jerry did transcribe it, and he handwrote
parts for the band. It was sent to the University of
Florida. I do not remember now who harmonized my melody,
but it was set in four parts. I submitted the melody and
the words, and some professor set it in four parts.
Then it came back, and we had to get permission from the
principal, the P.T.A., and alumni to change the alma mater,
because the one that they had used all the while was more or
less you might say a spirit number. It was one that was
common to a lot of high schools all over the state, but I
thought that we needed something a little more meaningful
than that. So it was because of that that we did compose
it. Everybody had to learn it; if you came to Lincoln, you
had to learn that alma mater. It came to mean something to
students. Now that there are class reunions every year--
somebody is holding a class reunion nearly every year now--
they always sing the alma mater. That is always a part of
it. So it really makes me feel quite proud.
E: Have you ever been honored at one of these class reunions?
M: Yes, a number of times I have been honored. And I have
plaques and certificates, etc. to show.
E: Did any of your students go on to become music majors?
M: Yes, there were some who went on to become music majors. I
can think of a few. Blanche Jackson teaches music in
Pensacola in the public school system. I had one who was
not a music major but was like a right arm to me in school,
and that is Gladys Spense Wright. She was in chorus at the
time, and she was a very good student and a very good
director. There were times if I had to be away or to be out
of the room, all I had to do was just turn it over to
Gladys, and she would take care of the situation. Then
there was Harold Jackson who teaches music at one of the
public elementary schools [Duval Elementary School] and
Angela Terrell who went on to become a music teacher [at
Littlewood Elementary School]. I guess that is about all I
can remember here in town. I may have omitted someone. But
I know Harold and Angela are very much into music.
E: You mentioned Harold Jackson. I am looking at a copy of the
Gainesville Courier of 1987, and it is a Hall of Fame
profile. In the article, it states that on June 4, 1987,
you received the first award as Music in Our School Honoree
from Duval Elementary, where Harold Jackson teaches. How
did you feel upon receiving that award?
M: I felt very proud and very honored to be receiving that,
because it was one of the first, and to know that one of my
students felt that I deserved the honor made me feel very
good. I went out there, and the principal presented this to
me in a crowded auditorium. It was videotaped. I would
like to read a part of the resolution I received, if I may.
Whereas Mrs. Geraldine Y. Miller has proven to be a
wonderful person who has inspired many in the field of
music education, and whereas her musicianship has
touched the lives of boys and girls throughout the
world, both directly and indirectly, and whereas the
selfless giving of her time and devotion to the
educational advancement of young people has inspired
many to seek degrees in music education, and whereas
her encouragement of self-discipline has inspired many
to study choral directing to be used in formal and
informal situations and her dedication to the pursuit
of perfection has inspired many to perform for
audiences from local to international levels, whereas
she has walked with queens and yet has maintained the
common touch. (Those were just some of the nice things
that were stated in this.) This was given this fourth
day of June, 1987.
E: Did any school system or agency or any other job ever
attempt to lure you away from teaching?
M: Yes, but it still would have been in education. I was
offered a job as music supervisor of the schools in the
county and as a director in the cultural center that we had.
It did not last very long; it was there for two years. I
was offered this before integration occurred. I guess they
felt that, because music and P.E. were frills, if they
integrated instructors from those fields first, it would be
easier to get people in the more academic areas like
English, social studies, and math [to accept the idea].
But, needless to say, I declined all of those offers because
I felt that remaining in the classroom and working with the
young people and seeing and hearing them perform was more
rewarding to me than being out there in the field.
E: Can you remember your first salary?
M: I think that first salary bordered somewhere around $1,200 a
year. That was in Pinellas County, and Pinellas County was
considered one of the better-paying counties. I thought
that was horrible, but that was what I earned. When I
retired, I had reached my peak. I had gotten up to $18,900,
which, of course, was because of my level of ranking, I
suppose. I had a level-two certificate by virtue of the
master's degree and my experience. But that does not
compete or compare, I should say, with the salaries teachers
are getting now. Salaries are much better today. They are
so good I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing [by
retiring]. I cannot say that, though, because I really have
enjoyed my retirement. I retired at a very early age, at
the age of fifty-five, in 1981, but that was after thirty-
one years of service. I suppose you might say I paid my
E: Your first year of retirement, in the month of August when
other teachers were preparing to begin another school year,
when they were sitting down to prepare lessons, meet the
students, decorate their classrooms, how did you feel upon
not re-entering the classroom?
M: I should say I felt fine. I did not miss the classroom to
the extent that I was mourning the fact that I was not going
back. When I retired, I was ready to retire. I think that
as far as having teacher burnout, I do not know if that was
the case. But being a musician requires a lot of time and
energy. I used to feel that it took more to be a musician
than to work in the classroom as such, because you were
always having to extend so much more energy directing, being
under the pressure of putting on programs, not knowing
whether the students were going to show up or not, worrying
about how they were going to sound, etc. I used to go
through a routine of anxiety and stress leading up to a
concert, but once that first note was sounded, I was
perfectly at ease. I knew I felt all right then. But those
after-hour rehearsals .
I remember once when we were working on Hello Dolly at
Buchholz, and our rehearsals had to be after school. You
would have taught all day, and you would stay after school
for rehearsals, sometimes into the night. On weekends we
had to rehearse. Sometimes between 11:00 and 12:00 at night
I would be leaving Buchholz and would have to travel back
across town. That was grueling! If we stayed to have
after-school rehearsals, I had to see that the kids got home
after the rehearsals. It was just a lot [of time and
pressure]. I do not think that I can say I miss it. Plus,
I have managed to stay so involved in other things, anyway,
that have kept me quite busy.
E: Were you paid a supplement for this extra duty?
M: No, I was not. One year, one time I was, because we went
down and protested the idea that we were putting in all this
extra time but were not getting anything for it. I knew
that the band directors were and the P.E. coaches were, and
we felt like we deserved it, too. So another music teacher
and I went down to talk with the superintendent and Mrs.
Wilhelmina Johnson, who was the elementary music teacher's
[supervisor] at that time. We went down, and we were told,
"Why are you coming down to ask about that? Music teachers
are a dime a dozen." That infuriated me. The
superintendent did not quite know what my qualifications
were, and when I finished telling him, he kind of backed
down. He said, "Go back and talk with your principal, and
if he agrees, I will agree." We got the supplement one
year, but after that, choral people did not get it. I do
not know what is happening now, whether they are getting it
E: They do receive a supplement.
M: Well, that is good.
E: At this time, what organizations are you affiliated with?
M: I belong to the Visionaires Club. We just finished
celebrating our fiftieth anniversary by presenting Daniel
Comegys in concert at the University of Florida's
[University Memorial] Auditorium. By the way, that was
quite successful. He is a lyric baritone from Colombia,
Maryland. I belong to The Links, Inc., which is a national
organization of renown. I also belong to Alpha Kappa Alpha
Sorority, Inc. By the way, I would like to say that in the
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority I served as vice-president for
six years and as president for two years. That was rather
demanding. I also served as recording secretary for The
Links for four years and as recording secretary for the
Visionaires for four years. I belong to Greater Bethel
A.M.E. Church and the Women of Allen, which is a church-
affiliated club. That is about it.
E: How do you keep up with the music today?
M: Well, I would have to say, sadly, that music is a bit
neglected. I am a part of and co-director of the 1,000
Voices Project, which is a musical performance of the black
churches in the county. That is supposed to come off April
1; we are supposed to be performing at the University's
O'Connell Center. This, I think, will be the first time a
project like this [has been attempted].
Otherwise, when I came out of music, I guess you might say I
came out. I do not spend time listening to my music
collection, and I do have quite a collection. That used to
be one of my hobbies as a youngster--collecting records and
albums, and I have some collector's items here. My dad used
to listen to music a lot, and I would play the piano a lot.
But I do not do that any more. I guess I do not have the
time to, or I do not take the time.
E: What do you do for relaxation?
M: I am a TV fanatic. I love television. I do love to travel
when I get a chance to. At one time we played bridge every
weekend, but I do not have time to play bridge anymore. I
like to read and hobnob on the phone. Between meetings,
that is about all I have time to do.
Well, of course, I cannot leave out my grandss"
[grandchildren]. I spend some time with them--they say when
they can catch up with me, because I am gone so much. But I
do have three lovely grandchildren. I would like to tell
you about them. The first is named Wayne Gazelle Fields II,
and he is in the sixth grade. He is in the gifted class at
Lincoln Middle School and was in the gifted class all
through his matriculation at Williams Elementary--I would
say the last three years, anyway. Then I have another
grandson whose name is Jerald Leonard [with the accent on
the "nard"] Fields. He is named after me and his step-
granddaddy. My dad, his other grandfather, was named
Leonard [with the accent on the "Le"], so we named his
Jerald Leonard. Then we have that almighty jewel that just
appeared on the scene some six weeks ago: we finally have a
little girl in the family, and her name is Jazelle Denise
Fields. She just arrived.
E: Can you name some of the places you have traveled to?
M: Well, you might say all up and down the east coast. I have
been to California and Las Vegas. I have spent time at San
Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I spent a lot of
time in New York City; we used to go there all the time. I
have done the state of Florida. My longest trip was to
Hawaii; I was in Hawaii for two weeks. I went to Jamaica
this summer and to the Bahamas. I have been there several
times. I have been to California. That is about it.
[There have been] short trips all around this state.
E: How do you view today's public school education system? Do
you think it is as effective as when you were teaching?
M: No, I do not. You asked me some time ago about black
participation. I think that there have been so many
programs tried and, I think, trial methods to see if they
were going to work. They are still trying to find ways and
means, I believe, of actually perfecting the system. But
they have not been successful. I remember when the junior
high school [was abandoned in favor of ninth grade schools].
I remember the county ninth grade schools in which all ninth
graders came in to one area. I also remember the "open
classroom" concept. The county spent a lot of money on
that, and it did not work. So what did they do? They ended
up closing a lot of the classrooms because it just did not
work; they abandoned the open classroom concept. They went
back to using middle schools, which is where we are now.
According to the drop-out rates that you hear about in the
system, something is not working. I do not know what, but
something is not working.
E: What is your most rewarding accomplishment to date?
M: Now, that is a hard one to answer. My most rewarding
accomplishment, I guess you might say, was being able to go
through the system and survive. Then, [it is rewarding] to
have come out as well respected as I feel I have been and to
have been able to serve in the capacity of president of my
sorority and to have been so honored in that several times.
Writing and knowing the success that we had with Bye Bye
Birdie was really a highlight of my musical achievement, you
might say. Looking back now on the alma mater [of Lincoln
High School] and how it is used and the pride that the
students, who are adults now, needless to say, seem to take
in singing that song, [I would say that writing that is a
wonderful accomplishment]. I guess because of the roots
that they are seeking now, everybody is going back to class
reunions. It was not always that way. They realize that a
lot of the things we had then have been missed, and are
missing now--today's students are not getting them. So they
tend to have these reunions, I think, to recapture some of
E: Do you attend your own class reunions?
M: I went back to my fortieth class reunion at Hampton
[University] in 1986, and it was one of the greatest
experiences that I have had. I enjoyed it immensely. To
see how that campus had changed was just beautiful. That
was one of the reunions that I went back to.
E: What would be your advice to any young person aspiring to be
a teacher today?
M: I think in order to be a teacher, to be a good teacher, you
need to get qualified, number one. You need to be
dedicated. There are not many dedicated teachers now, I do
not think. I think that people are going into it mainly for
the salary. You really do need to have the patience of Job
when you go into [teaching].
E: Mrs. Miller, if I may return back to your childhood, would
you classify your family as a middle-class family? How
would you classify your family?
M: I would say we were considered middle class, especially at
E: How would you be classified as middle class?
M: Classified as middle class in terms of finance. As I said,
my daddy was always a go-getter financially. On both my
father's side and my mother's side, my people, my
grandparents, came to Linton as pioneers. There were hardly
any blacks; they were among the first blacks in that small
town. Of course, they acquired a lot of property at that
time. Because the property was cheap, they were able to buy
a lot of property that was on the ocean, on Linton's
waterfront. Then they acquired property in the downtown
section. They owned a packing house. Pineapples were quite
plentiful in south Florida at the time (I do not think they
are now), and they owned a packing house, as well as a
tomato packing house. I remember working in the packing
house with my granddad. He even had the little fancy
packing wrappers with his name on it that he used to pack
the tomatoes in the little baskets. Then my dad came along
as a chef.
They all went to college. I guess for those early days,
going away to college was a little above the average. My
mother graduated, but my dad only had three years. He was
from a relatively large family, and when his mother died,
he, being the oldest child, had to drop out to help support
the younger siblings, and he never went back. But he was
certainly quite a wise man. He knew how to get ahead, and
In terms of some of the stories I have heard people talk
about--the outhouses and the tin tubs for bathing, etc.--I
did not have to go through that. I think I was very
fortunate in terms of some of the things that we had as
early blacks. When the hi-fis first came out, we had one.
For a long time we had, as I recall, the only automobile in
our neighborhood. When I was growing up, I always had a
bicycle, but there were other kids who were not fortunate
enough to have one. We had a telephone; people used to come
from around in the neighborhood to use the telephone. We
had indoor bathrooms all the time. So I guess you might say
we were fortunate in that respect.
E: Were you a sought-after girl for the boys to date?
M: Well, I would not say I was sought after. I had one boy
friend that I really thought I was in love with and he with
me, but being so young, when I went away to college, that
was the end of that. At Hampton, I had some friends, but I
was always a monogamist, I guess you might say. I did not
believe in running from here to there. I had one boyfriend
that I really did think a lot of, and I stuck with him
throughout college. There were a couple of others. You
know you are more serious with one sometimes than with
E: Describe a typical day at Hampton.
M: Hampton is located on the Chesapeake Bay, and it is a very
beautiful setting. I had visited a number a college
campuses, but to me Hampton Institute had one of the most
beautiful college campuses--black colleges--that I had
visited. A typical day there was getting up in the morning,
getting dressed, going to class, going to your meals. You
might say that when I was in school, my mother probably was
paying two boards, because I never did like to eat breakfast
early, and at the time if you went to breakfast, you had to
be there at 6:30 in order to eat and get to class. I never
could manage that very well, so I would eat in the
cafeteria, and that meant double money. Nevertheless, that
is what I did. And [we enjoyed] sitting out on the
waterfront. There was a pier that extended out into the
bay, and for Hampton students that was just a part of daily
activities. You would go out there on the pier and just
view the beauty of the surroundings. Then there were choir
rehearsal. That used to be a highlight, because I really
did enjoy the choir.
E: Are you a soprano or alto?
M: I am an alto. I was a contralto in school, but I am really
an alto, as you can tell from the sound of my voice. It is
very low. I am an alto.
E: Did you perform any solos in the chorus at Hampton?
M: No, I did not have any solos, but by singing in the
ensemble, I had vocal parts with very small groups. I
remember well when I first went to tryout for the chorus. I
went in, and Noah Ryder, an outstanding director and
musician and choral arranger (he is deceased now) asked,
"What are you going to try out for?" and I said, "Soprano."
They tested you by having you sing scales, and he took me as
high as I could go and then as low as I could go. Well, he
kept going down and down and down, and I was singing right
with him. And the kids by that time were in stitches. They
could not imagine me coming up there talking about being a
soprano and singing that low, so he made a big joke out of
it and told me he thought it would be good if he assigned me
in the back with the basses. [laughter] It was quite an
E: Did you do any accompanying?
M: No, but I was student conductor. I was really very
interested in choral directing, and I did become one of the
student conductors for a while when I was at Hampton. That,
I suppose, led to my desire to be a director. I really did
enjoy directing. I was able to get a lot out of my choruses
throughout the years. With my hands, I could interpret and
really pull out of them what I thought should have been
pulled out musically for a performance. I guess that is why
I said the music classroom is so rewarding to me, because I
enjoyed choral directing, and I could see and hear and
listen to the fruits of my labor.
E: How did you manage to teach basses, tenors, and sopranos
their voice parts?
M: I would get right up there with them, right in the midst of
their section, and sing their parts. I did have a very good
range, I must say, and I suppose it probably developed by
doing that. I would sing soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
For a long time I did that with my choruses. I could manage
that in teaching the parts.
E: Did you ever study applied voice?
M: No. I did take a course because it was required. I take
that back; I did have to take voice, but it never developed
to the point of giving recitals.
E: Did you sing in foreign languages?
M: One or two numbers because it was required. I took German
for two years and became pretty fluent in reading it and
speaking it, and I took French for one semester because it
was required. But I never could handle the French as well
as I could the German, and it kind of got away from me. If
you do not use a language often, it leaves you.
E: Were your years at Fisk along the same lines as your years
M: No, I do not think so. I would trade nothing for my years
at Hampton. At Fisk I was digging because I went there as a
graduate student. I think it was a little more difficult.
I was taking only music courses for the most part, whereas
at Hampton I had variety. I majored in English [at
Hampton], so naturally I was taking all kinds of things,
including education courses. But at Fisk I was strictly in
I had some good years at Fisk. I met my first husband
there. At that time he was a dental student at Meharry
Medical School. They used to say girls went to school
looking for husbands, but that was not why I went there
originally. Hampton had always had a very good reputation
for having a good music department, and I went there for
that reason. It just so happened that I did meet him there.
E: As a product of a black university or black college, how do
you feel about the present system or the present idea of
black schools being merged with white colleges and
M: I think that in view of integration and in view of the
opportunities now being afforded to blacks, they are able to
attend the predominantly white universities if they want to.
Whites are able to attend the black universities if they
want to, although I do not think that many of them do. I
think the black schools should remain open and should not
merge with the other universities. For some, that is all of
the identity we have.
I know that life is different on a black campus than it
would be for black students on a predominantly white campus.
I guess I can speak to that, because my son and daughter-in-
law are products of a predominantly white university, the
University of Florida; they are both graduates of the
University of Florida. I attended black universities, and
from listening to some of their activities and some of the
things that they were and were not a part of, as opposed to
some of the things that I had opportunities for, (I would
say] it is just a big difference.
I do not support closing the black universities. I think
that many students do need to remain there, and we need to
have that. That is a part of the whole black heritage. We
have had a lot of outstanding black people come out of the
black universities. They get opportunities to be leaders
far more than I think they would elsewhere, so I would not
support merging them at all. As long as we are able to go,
E: Do you think blacks will ever be given that shot at
leadership on a predominantly white campus?
M: Well, you cannot say that it has been closed out, per se,
but the role is so minimal. You will see one every now and
then, but, predominantly, no, I do not see it. The whole
social climate is different for black students on white
campuses than it is on black campuses. That is a part of
living, that is a part of society. You have to have a
certain amount of social activities in which to engage to
make you really feel that you are a part of society, and I
do not think that the black students on predominantly white
campuses have been accepted to that point. I understand in
talking with them that there is still a barrier there. It
might be tolerance. In many instances, they seem to feel as
though they are tolerated. They are there, but there is not
that genuine feeling that you get.
E: What type of world do you envision for your grandchildren as
M: Now, that is hard. I have no idea, because today's society
has just taken a nose dive, it seems. I would say a nose
dive, because they have to contend with so many things that
I as a child did not have to contend with. The drug
situation seems to be taking over. It is frightening. The
nuclear situation is taking over. I just do not know. The
jobless, the homeless--all of these things have come into
focus now, and it is frightening. I shudder to think.
E: What are your words of wisdom to the young?
M: My words of wisdom would be to get prepared, to be a part of
the mainstream of society, to get as much education as you
can. I think that is our only hope. Everybody says this
cliche, "Say no to drugs." Drugs have become such an
integral part of today's society that it is frightening.
When I say it is frightening, I mean it is frightening
because they have infiltrated the schools all the way down
into the elementary schools in some instances. Kids are
involved with that, and it can take such a toll on one's
life that you have to keep preaching "Just say no. Just say
no to drugs." Teen pregnancy--"Just say no. Do not let it
happen to you." Now that we have a little granddaughter, we
will have to teach her to "Just say no."
E: Thank you, Mrs. Miller, for a lovely interview.
M: You are welcome, Renee. I enjoyed it.