Martha A. Smith Miller, Class of 1958

Martha Smith Miller passed away peacefully Saturday January 24, 2015 due to complications from cancer. She was 78.   A devoted mother and teacher who loved art, travel and music. She was passionate about politics, social issues and education.   Born in Jackson Mississippi, Martha lost both her parents at an early age. Her mother Katie Holmes died when she was just 13 months and her father Winston Smith died before she reached her teenage years.  Martha was dearly loved and nurtured by her maternal Grandparents, Will and Maggie Holmes, Uncles Fernandis and Milton Holmes with Aunt Lenora Butler who all lived in the same household. Her two aunts Sallie Thomas and Hattie Woodson helped mold Martha into a beautiful young lady who was devoted to her faith and family.  Other close cousins, during these formative and later years, were Dora Woodson Griffin and Yvonne Holmes-Huddleston. 

After graduating from Holy Ghost High School in 1953, Martha and two of her friends (Georgia Woodruff and Ethel Taylor) hopped a train to Massachusetts where they became some of the first African-American women to integrate The Boston College of Education.   Martha spent two years in Boston before transferring to Fisk University; graduating in 1958 with a bachelor's Psychology. She fell in love with Fisk. She would often travel to Nashville to attend reunions, visit the campus and catch up with classmates. She spoke often of the Fisk Jubilee singers and how much she enjoyed their performances.

Later that year she married Coleman Miller in a small ceremony at the home of Mrs. Marie Coleman and Dr. William E. Miller.    By August of 1959, the couple had moved to Cleveland, OH where they welcomed three sons (Paul, Mark and David). In 1964 the family relocated to Brooklyn, NY where daughter Patrice was born.

The stay in New York was short as they moved back to Cleveland and subsequently, Jackson, MS.  It was in Jackson that Martha became part of the Civil Rights Movement. She worked to register black voters while Coleman was involved organizing boycotts of area merchants.

A few years passed before the family would move again, but this time it would last.   In 1968, Martha and Coleman packed up the kids and headed north to Evanston IL, where the family settled and prospered. Martha began her career as a substitute teacher in the Chicago Public School system. When her children were older, she took a full-time position with the Gifted Program in CPS.   She spoke fondly of her time in Evanston. It was a great place to raise a family and she opened her home to many neighborhood children. If you came to the Miller house you would not leave hungry. Martha fed the kids in the band; the ones home from college, and the young ones playing football down the street. In the Miller house people would come and go and it was common to find Martha in the kitchen with a laugh and smile cooking enough food to feed an army.  She passed along her love of travel to all four of her children. "See America" is what she'd say.

By 1977 the Miller family had seen the much of the country from the windows of a Ford Country Squire station wagon complete with wooden panels.  In 1985, Martha decided to go her own way. She moved back to Cleveland to begin a new life. It was a time of self-discovery. As a teacher in East Cleveland primarily at Kirk Jr. High, she mentored countless students and joined the school choir. Also she earned a Master's Degree in Education from Kent State University. To give back to others, she joined the Fisk Alumni Association and became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.  She became a world traveler seeing many sites from the deck of a cruise ship. She loved it so much that she launched the Fisk Alumni Cruise and with the help of classmate Lanita Brooks and friend Delores Thompson they were able to raise thousands of dollars for their Alma mater. The trips were well received and they united many alumni from classes that covered a 30-year-span.  

To Martha the world was one big classroom and she saw herself as both student and teacher. She wore many hats. Held many titles, but the one she was most proud of and the closest to her heart was simply: Grandma-mama.  She is survived by her four children Paul (Vickie), Mark (Jennifer), David (Donna) and Patrice (Timothy), seven grandchildren Callie (16), Lena (14), Nicole (13), Sky (13), Nora (11), Daniel (11), Donovan (9) and many extended family members. 

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