May Miller By Jackie LarsenBiographyMay Miller was born on January 26th, 1899 in Washington D.C. to Kelly and Anna May Miller. She was one of five children, and her father, born shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, was both the first African American to attend John Hopkins University and one of the pioneers of sociology. Because of her father's importance, her house was frequently visited by many influential people such as W.E.B Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, who were frequent household guests. Her father was an important man in history, and considered himself one of the "...first fruits of the Civil War, one of the first African Americans who learned to read, write, and cipher in public schools..." Kelly Miller's influential lessons were not lost upon May, and they made an impact on her actions and attitudes as she grew and matured. His teachings affected her so much that they can be found in almost every poem she has ever written. Miller began writing poetry at a very young age, and would sell her poems for profit. She was often seen wearing a pair of earrings that she had purchased with the earnings of her first published poem (Sklarew).


Attending Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, Miller studied under popular activists such as dramatist Mary Burrill and poet Angelina Weld Grimke, both African American. Pursuing a drama major at Howard University, Miller composed spectacular drama plays, earning a multitude of rewards. Here, she even helped kick-start an African American drama movement. By the 40's, Miller devoted most of her time and focus to poetry. In this time, she composed many great volumes of poetry, including Into The Clearing (1959), Poems (1962), and Dust of Uncertain Journey (1975). She wrote many great works of literature in her time. Miller died on February 11, 1995 (Stoeling).


Possessed of this city, we are born
Into kinship with its people.
Eyes that looked upon
Cool magnificence of space,
The calm of marble,
And green converging on green
In long distances,
Bear their wonder to refute
Meaningless dimensions,
The Old-World facades.

The city is ours irrevocably
As pain sprouts at the edge of joy,
As grief grows large with our years.
New seeds push hard to topsoil;
Logic is a grafted flower
From roots in a changeless bed.
Skeleton steel may shadow the path,
Broken stone snag the foot,
But we shall walk again
Side by side with others on the street,
Each certain of his way home.
There are many hidden themes and meanings in this poem by May Miller, The Washingtonian. "Possessed of this city, we are born" (1) Miller begins her poem strongly, the tone brave. This line makes me think that this city has possessed her from the day of her birth, controlled her and always been present within her, comparable to the way a ghost will possess a human. From both her biography and the title, it is know that the city of which she speaks of is Washington D.C. The next line, "Into kinship with its people" (2) signifies to the reader that when born in Washington, one can never leave the kinship, and that one has a sort of bond with the people of Washington.

Miller incorporates a theme of hard work and perseverence in these lines: "Skeleton steel may snag the foot/broken stone snag the foot/but we shall walk again" (17, 18, 19). These lines may remind the reader of a similar poem by Langston Hughes, Mother To Son. Both give advice to persevere and stay committed to the goal, even when times are rough or the path is shady. Another theme prominent in this poem is the bond Washingtonians have, portrayed in the last two lines. "Side by side with others on the street/Each certain of his way home" (20, 21). These lines demonstrate the close connection Washingtonians have, the friendship they share, and shows the theme of teamwork, a theme very prevalent in The Harlem Renaissance.

Works Cited
Winifred L. Stoeling, “May Miller,”DLB, vol. 41, Afro-American Poets since 1955, eds. Trudier Harris and Thadious Davis, 1985, pp. 241–247. James V. Hatch and Leo Hamalian, eds., The Roots of African-American Theater, 1991, pp. 307–327.
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