In the essay below, journalist and historian Amina Hassan describes her 2015 biography of Loren Miller, a significant but understudied figure in the long twentieth century campaign for civil rights and racial justice.
This book on Loren Miller’s life has its origins in my growing up in Los Angeles. As a child, I knew Miller’s name because he had represented my father, Alfred Hassan, who had been refused service by the Kansas City Steak House. This was in the days that my father, a former California State track champion, worked for the post office before he became a civil engineer. On the day he entered the restaurant; he was wearing his mail carrier’s uniform and was in the company of two white mailmen. Through the lawsuit, Miller succeeded in getting each of the three men the then-standard settlement of $100.
Although I knew that skeletal story, I asked my father only years later, while in the midst of this biography, just how he had come to know Miller. It was my mother, Mamie, he replied, who was the conduit. An early childhood educator with the Los Angeles Public Schools, she knew Loren Miller’s wife, Juanita, one of Southern California’s foremost social workers. Although we did not socialize with the Millers, we shared some similarities. We lived near their Silver Lake neighborhood, away from other black Angelenos; and we were educated, racially mixed, politically progressive, and secular. My parents—and what I later learned about Miller—believed wholeheartedly in exercising their constitutional rights without which they knew there is no democracy. So, it was no accident that Miller’s life intrigued me.
However, the clincher for my deciding to launch this project goes to the generosity of spirit of the library staff at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Before my first visit, I contacted the library staff who informed me that sixteen dusty cartons of Loren Miller’s papers had just arrived, and if I was interested, I should let them know when I arrive. When I did, I was asked if I would like