Barry McNamara  |  Published January 28, 2021

The Champion Miller 1860 Fund

Fund to enhance campus diversity sparked, in part, by Regina Johnson’s research paper from 20 years ago.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Two decades ago as a Monmouth College student, Regina Johnson ’01 wrote a history paper that shed light on the life and times of Champion Miller, a Black man who was a distinguished member of the Monmouth community in the 19th century.

REGINA JOHNSON: Her Monmouth research paper from 20 years ago served as catalyst for creation of ... REGINA JOHNSON: Her Monmouth research paper from 20 years ago served as catalyst for creation of College's Champion Miller 1860 Fund.Now Monmouth’s director of multicultural student services, Johnson’s paper was part of the inspiration for the College’s founding of the Champion Miller 1860 Fund. The fund supports several initiatives, including: lectures; student programming; support for recruiting a diverse student body, faculty and staff; and diversity training for the campus community.

“In a million years, I never thought that, 20 years later, my paper would be relevant, or that Champion Miller’s name would come back up,” said Johnson.

Johnson recalled pressing longtime history professor William Urban for permission to write about Miller for his historiography class.

“I wanted to write about underrepresented students, and I got him intrigued,” she said. “He said no one had really put anything together on that topic for one of his classes.”

Born a slave, Champion Miller came to Monmouth from Kentucky and purchased his freedom in December 1848 for $600 (the equivalent of $19,740 in 2020).

“Regina did amazing historical research that utilized oral tradition as one source,” said Monmouth development officer Mollie Harrod. “This is notable because when studying history in higher education, written documents are often the only accepted research avenue, leaving the stories of enslaved people like Champion untold and incomplete. As a College we are lucky that Regina was able to bring to life Champion’s incredible journey from slavery to freedom.”

Miller was taught to read and write by William T. Moffet, a student of the Monmouth Theological Society, which operated in conjunction with Monmouth College between 1858 and 1874.

After he established himself in Monmouth, Miller traveled to Missouri to purchase freedom for his wife for $800 ($26,300 in 2020 dollars) and one son for $400 ($13,160). His enslaved daughter was sold just prior to the Civil War, and the Millers were unable to locate her. Miller’s son died serving the Union in the Civil War.

Miller was instrumental in the organization of the First African Church of Monmouth, which was founded by Monmouth College President David Wallace in 1865, and which later became Fourth United Presbyterian Church. After that congregation was disbanded in 1871, he attended First United Presbyterian Church, which was organized by the founders of Monmouth College in 1853.

Miller died on June 9, 1882, at his Monmouth home. He and his wife are buried in Monmouth.

“We need to be more reflective of who Champion Miller was and what he accomplished. He was a very polished, very bright man, and he was as well respected as a man of color could be in Warren County at that time.” Regina Johnson

Harrod said that creating the Champion Miller 1860 Fund was part of a broader College initiative to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“This resulted in Regina’s research on Champion to be utilized to help move our mission forward,” said Harrod. “I am proud that we are telling Champion’s story. Monmouth College has always been a place to educate women, people of color and others who some in society believed did not deserve to be educated.”

Johnson is pleased that the subject of her research is being recognized.

“I think it’s really cool that this fund has been established,” said Johnson. “We need to be more reflective of who Champion Miller was and what he accomplished. He was a very polished, very bright man, and he was as well respected as a man of color could be in Warren County at that time.”

Johnson said she’s had no luck in her attempts to trace the genealogy of Miller’s two daughters, but that it would be “amazing” if some of his ancestors are discovered.

“It would be really amazing if research could be done on that and we could track down some of Champion’s relatives,” she said. “I would love for this tale to unfold to more than just having a fund in his name.”

More …

Learn more about the Champion Miller 1869 Fund.

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