Born a slave in Barren County, Kentucky, in 1808, Champion Miller was emancipated by a circuit court decree in 1848, having paid to his master — then deceased — the sum of $600 with interest for the privilege of possessing his own body. He later bought the freedom of his wife and daughter for $800, and his son for $400. The son later died from fever contracted while serving his country during the Civil War.
Miller came to Monmouth in 1856, and he brought his family here the following year. He was one of the founders, along with Monmouth President David Wallace, of the First African Church, which later became the Fourth United Presbyterian Church before it was dissolved in 1871. Miller then became a respected member of First United Presbyterian Church, a membership he held until his death in 1882.
During his years in Monmouth, Miller was a respected citizen, running a laundry business out of his home and raising a family of four children. Upon his death, the local newspaper wrote: “Here he lived an upright and honorable Christian life, so that it had been said of him since his death that no man in Monmouth was more respected. And the life of this humble black man, no less than that of the good whom death snatches from the high places of earth, has a lesson for the living. How many of the names blazoned in history would be found if their owners had begun life without a title to their own bodies?”
Although he did not enroll in Monmouth College, Miller was in a sense a student of the College. From 1858-60, William T. Moffet, as student at the Monmouth College Theological Seminary, taught Miller to read and write. Had Miller been born under different circumstances, it is reasonable to expect this intelligent, industrious man might well have earned a Monmouth degree.
Champion Miller, his wife, daughter and granddaughter are buried in Monmouth Cemetery. Lack of financial resources apparently prohibited the family from purchasing a burial plot, so the graves have no markers. Burial space was apparently donated by friends — perhaps from the Presbyterian Church. Research into the life of Miller is ongoing but has yet to locate even a photograph of the former slave. It is known that descendants are still living, and it is hoped that some can be located so they may add to knowledge of Miller and help honor his memory.