Interview with Andy and Shirley Miller

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Andy and Shirley Miller

Subject

Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Civil rights
Civil rights movements
Discrimination
Segregation
Human rights

Description

Shirley Miller moved to Richland, Washington in 1951 and was involved in local civil rights movements. Andy Miller was born in Richland, Washington in 1953. A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288

Publisher

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

06/26/2018

Rights

Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at ourhanfordhistory@tricity.wsu.edu, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Format

video/mp4

Provenance

The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to the US Department of Energy collection. This oral history collection was done in partnership with the National Park Service under Task Agreement P17AC01288.

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Robert Franklin

Interviewee

Andy and Shirley Miller

Location

Washington State University - Tri Cities

Transcription

Robert Franklin: Okay. All right. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Andy and Shirley Miller on June 26, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Andy and Shirley about their experiences living in the Tri-Cities and/or working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us? Start with—

Andy Miller: Andy Miller, A-N-D-Y. M-I-L-L-E-R.

Franklin: Okay.

Shirley Miller: And Shirley Miller, S-H-I-R-L-E-Y, M-I-L-L-E-R.

Franklin: Great, thank you. Shirley, let’s start about talking about your life before Hanford and the Tri-Cities. Where and when were you born?

Shirley Miller: Where and when was I born?

Franklin: Yeah.

Shirley Miller: Well, I was born in Kansas.

Franklin: Okay.

Shirley Miller: In Pratt, Kansas.

Andy Miller: In 1929.

Shirley Miller: Uh-huh.

Franklin: How did you hear about the Tri-Cities? How did you come here?

Shirley Miller: My husband got a job.

Franklin: Okay. For--?

Shirley Miller: Who did he work for?

Andy Miller: General Electric.

Shirley Miller: General Electric.

Franklin: And what year did you move out here?

Shirley Miller: Oh, God.

Andy Miller: It was right after your wedding date.

Shirley Miller: Oh, I can’t remember.

Andy Miller: In 1951.

Shirley Miller: 1951.

Andy Miller: And you want to tell him where you met Dad?

Shirley Miller: Where’d I meet him?

Andy Miller: Uh-huh.

Shirley Miller: Where’d I meet him?

Andy Miller: In college.

Shirley Miller: Oh, in college.

Andy Miller: At KU.

Shirley Miller: At KU, okay.

Franklin: What were your first impressions when you came to Richland?

Shirley Miller: That it was a bare town.

Franklin: That’s pretty fair. And where was the first place you stayed after you arrived?

Shirley Miller: The first place?

Franklin: Yeah.

Shirley Miller: Well, probably in the hotel, and then I went to a place they gave us to stay in.

Franklin: Where—what kind of place was that?

Shirley Miller: Wasn’t that a little house?

Andy Miller: The prefab.

Shirley Miller: A prefab?

Andy Miller: You know what street it was on?

Shirley Miller: No, unh-uh.

Andy Miller: Snow Street.

Shirley Miller: Oh, Snow Street, okay, it was on Snow Street. It was right across the street from the school.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Andy, was that where you were born, or is that where your parents were living—

Andy Miller: I was born at Kadlec, and I went from Kadlec to the prefab.

Franklin: And what—do you remember the address of the prefab?

Andy Miller: It was right across from Marcus Whitman. I think it was 512.

Shirley Miller: 512. 512 Snow.

Franklin: Okay. I used to live on Stanton. That’s where I stayed when I first moved here, yeah. That’s a cute little neighborhood. So what was the hardest aspect of life in this area to adjust to?

Shirley Miller: Oh, you asking me?

Franklin: Yeah.

Shirley Miller: What was the hardest part--?

Andy Miller: What did you miss the most about Kansas? What was the hardest thing about living here?

Shirley Miller: Well, I—

Andy Miller: It was hard on your asthma.

Shirley Miller: I mean, just the difference of a town like this, that was just built from different houses. I mean, it was a different type of living.

Franklin: Mm-hmm. Okay.

Shirley Miller: I mean, not having different homes. Yeah.

Franklin: What did your husband do for General Electric?

Shirley Miller: He was an engineer.

Franklin: Engineer, okay. And, Andy, you said you were born—what year—you said you were born at Kadlec. What year were you born?

Andy Miller: 1953.

Franklin: 1953, okay. And how long did you stay at the house on Snow?

Andy Miller: We moved to a ranch house on Cottonwood in 1958.

Franklin: Okay, that’s also in Richland?

Andy Miller: Yup, and it was also one of the government houses that was built right after Hanford was constructed.

Franklin: Okay. So when did you—Shirley, when did you first become involved in the groups like the NAACP or CORE, Congress of Racial Equality? How did you become involved with trying to help the African American community?

Shirley Miller: How did I come--? I don’t know, how did I?

Andy Miller: Well, Nyla Brouns. That’s where you met Nyla.

Shirley Miller: Yeah?

Andy Miller: And Randy Jones.

Shirley Miller: Randy Jones, uh-huh, Randy Jones, okay. It was Randy Jones, I lived next-door to her, yeah. Yeah, I lived next-door to Randy Jones. And I went to meetings and became involved.

Andy Miller: Randy was an African American, married to her husband Herb, and they had two children. So our families became social friends and Rindy was one of the African American leaders in the city of Richland.

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Andy Miller: And she worked in Pasco. She helped get CORE started and was very active in the NAACP.

Franklin: And CORE stands for Congress On Racial Equality.

Andy Miller: Congress Of Racial Equality, I think, yeah.

Franklin: Congress Of Racial Equality. Okay. Do you remember what year—either of you remember what year that would’ve been, around?

Andy Miller: I think it’d be about ’62 or ’63.

Franklin: Okay. What were the primary activities of CORE and the NAACP in the Tri-Cities?

Shirley Miller: Hmm. Trying to find houses for people. Is that one?

Andy Miller: Uh-huh, yeah, that’s what you’ve mentioned.

Franklin: What were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities?

Andy Miller: Well, I think Mom just mentioned the housing issue. And she actually has a good story about helping the first African American family move into Kennewick, because up until that time, Kennewick did not allow African Americans to live there.

Shirley Miller: Yes, and we worked on that.

Andy Miller: You want to tell him what you did with the Slaughters?

Shirley Miller: No, what did we do? I mean, tell me. You—

Andy Miller: You were just telling me, you remember when the Slaughters would call for a house to rent? And they were told, no, what would you and Dad do?

Shirley Miller: Oh, yeah. Then we would call up and ask, and they would say, yes, and then we would call back.

Andy Miller: And who else did that? Nyla?

Shirley Miller: Nyla, oh, because Nyla did it more than I did because she’s better on the telephone than I. Yeah.

Andy Miller: So they would—because there was no written ordinance, but it was a practice. So what would happen is the Slaughters would respond to an ad and they would be refused. Then Mom and Dad and Dick and Nyla Brouns, they would then call the same people and they would be offered the ability to rent the house. So that put a lot of pressure. They actually did file complaints. The law wasn’t as good as it is now, but there was some legal leverage and finally the Slaughters were able to find a house in Kennewick to rent.

Franklin: Okay. Yeah, we interviewed John Slaughter early on.

Andy Miller: Good, good.

Franklin: And he told me—he mentioned this part of his civil rights history. That’s excellent. Who were other important leaders of civil rights efforts in the area?

Andy Miller: Do you remember some of the other people you worked with? There was Robert and Evelyn Jackson.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Andy Miller: And Robert was a lawyer who worked for what was then the AEC.

Shirley Miller: Oh, they were very important.

Andy Miller: Yes. And do you want to tell the story that Robert hit home for us some of the background of how Robert was able to go to law school?

Shirley Miller: By sitting in the back of the room.

Andy Miller: Not in the back of the room. In the hallway.

Shirley Miller: In the hallway, okay.

Andy Miller: Yeah, Robert was admitted to University of Virginia Law School by court order. But he had to sit in the hallway because the law school would not sit him in the room. They had said they couldn’t be in the same room with white students. So he had to—they would leave the door open while he would listen to the lectures. And then after graduating, he came out here where he got his first job. So he was—and him being a lawyer made him a leader. He lived in Richland, but we had—you worked with a lot of people. Iola James, do you remember her?

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Andy Miller: And do you remember some other people that lived in Pasco that you worked with?

Shirley Miller: Oh, I can’t remember.

Andy Miller: Okay. But it was a combination of professionals who lived in Richland and then with other African Americans who lived in east Pasco. And then you got to know people like Wally Webster.

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm. Very definitely. He was the leader. Did you talk to Wally Webster?

Franklin: We are talking to Wally Webster in about less than a month. He’s coming over from the west side for a family reunion.

Shirley Miller: Good.

Franklin: I’ve talked to him on the phone, though. I’ve talked to him, and we’ve talked to Webster Jackson.

Andy Miller: Yes.

Franklin: And we’ve talked to Pastor Albert Wilkins.

Shirley Miller: Yeah, he was very active.

Franklin: And talked to Dallas Barnes.

Andy Miller: Mom was good—they still have dinner together with Dallas and Lozie.

Franklin: Oh, okay. We wanted to kind of—we’re closing in on the end of the interview project, but I don’t know if we can kind of round out—we wanted to get some of the experiences of allies of the civil rights effort to round everything out. You know, why people would get involved to help others at a time when there was a lot of violence directed at African Americans and certainly a lot of resistance towards—

Shirley Miller: Well, it was only the fair thing to do. Goodness.

Franklin: Yeah. Yes, that’s true. Were there ever any tensions between the professionals in Richland and the residents of east Pasco, as to, like class tensions within the movement?

Andy Miller: Do you understand what he was saying, Mom? Did sometimes people in east Pasco resent or be suspicious of the African Americans from Richland?

Shirley Miller: Right, yes.

Franklin: How did that play out? Were there any manifestations of those tensions? Any disagreements or violence?

Shirley Miller: I think there was, not violence but disagreements. Kind of anger at each other. Not anger, but—

Franklin: Kind of a dislike or—

Shirley Miller: I think.

Andy Miller: My memory from what Mom and Dad told me was that there were frank discussions.

Shirley Miller: That’s a better word.

Andy Miller: But they never got angry at each other, and there was always a working-together coalition. But there would be suspicion and sometimes some resentments that would be expressed.

Shirley Miller: That’s right.

Andy Miller: But there was never—at least from what Mom and Dad have told me over the years, there was never a fracturing of the movement in Tri-Cities. They stayed united.

Shirley Miller: Yes, yes, there was never a fracture.

Franklin: Did each city—you mentioned housing in Kennewick, and I know that for east Pasco, a lot of the civil rights effort was focused around things like street improvements, right, and water and sewer, and employment. Did Richland have any unique civil rights challenges? Because—was housing an issue? Was it similar to the other cities, or was there something different about Richland?

Andy Miller: Yes. Mom, did you want to tell him about when you were on the Richland Human Rights Commission and your work on the fair housing ordinance?

Shirley Miller: No, go ahead.

Andy Miller: No, do you remember?

Shirley Miller: No, unh-uh. I remember working on it, but I don’t remember any action.

Andy Miller: Well, certainly, Mom talked, and I do remember, is that there was housing discrimination in Richland also, but more on the individual home owners basis.

Shirley Miller: Yeah, that is definitely true.

Andy Miller: And when you first were on the Human Rights Commission, when you first went to city council, were they for it at first, or were they against it at first?

Shirley Miller: Well, I don’t think they were for it at first. But they were later.

Andy Miller: So, Mom and I think—was Mr. Mitchell on the Human Rights Commission? There were some other people on the Human Rights Commission.

Shirley Miller: He could’ve been. Probably, because he was so active, yeah. I can’t remember.

Andy Miller: But you remember working to get—in Richland was I think one of the first cities to adopt a fair housing ordinance in the Northwest.

Franklin: Okay. That’s great.

Andy Miller: And thanks to Mom—and it was a coalition of whites in Richland and African Americans that were on the Human Rights Commission and they worked together to pressure the city.

Franklin: Great, great. What were some of the notable successes of the civil rights activities in the Tri-Cities?

Shirley Miller: What?

Franklin: What were some of the successes of the civil rights efforts in the Tri-Cities?

Shirley Miller: I don’t know what that—

Andy Miller: Well, I mean, what are some good things that came out? I think part of it is, you had a lot of the marches.

Shirley Miller: We had good marches.

Andy Miller: And do you remember what the marches were for?

Shirley Miller: No, what were they for? I remember the marches.

Andy Miller: Well, I think it was during the time that Dr. King was working.

Shirley Miller: Oh, you’re really going back far.

Franklin: Yeah.

Andy Miller: That’s what they wanted to know about. Do you want to tell them where the marches would start when we would go to Pasco and have the marches?

Shirley Miller: At the park in Pasco.

Andy Miller: In east Pasco. Kurtzman Park. And where’d we go after we left Kurtzman Park?

Shirley Miller: We’d march across the bridge and through the town—

Andy Miller: Through the underpass.

Shirley Miller: Underpass. And then we went up usually to where that other park was and what building is that?

Andy Miller: The courthouse?

Shirley Miller: Uh-huh, the courthouse.

Andy Miller: And then we’d go back to Kurtzman Park. Do you remember what kind of reaction we got sometimes on those marches?

Shirley Miller: Well, negative, sometimes, yes.

Andy Miller: From people that would drive by?

Shirley Miller: Yes, uh-huh.

Andy Miller: What would they do?

Shirley Miller: I mean, not—down.

Andy Miller: And would they ever wave anything?

Shirley Miller: A flag, yes.

Andy Miller: They would—my memory was that you would have people driving by and yelling obscenities and waving a confederate flag.

Shirley Miller: Yes, oh, yeah! That was the main—yeah. The confederate flag held up.

Andy Miller: And that is why I never understood people who talk about confederate flags being a heritage. Because my first experience with a confederate flag was that it was used as a hate symbol to try to intimidate African Americans and whites with them during these marches that were there to support.

Another memory I have is the marches back then, and I was only probably about ten, but the marches back then had a different atmosphere than marches that people go on today. We would get pep talks about the types of things that may happen, that people are going to try to goad us into violence. And I remember one African American woman, she was older, coming to me and specifically saying, there’s going to be people to try to get you to yell back, or try to do something and back. And I think she really focused on some of the younger white boys, to making sure that we would not undermine the march. So I just really remember being impressed with the strength.

Shirley Miller: Yeah, that’s good, you have the better memory. That’s good.

Andy Miller: And another thing that—when he’s asking about things that made a difference is, do you remember the Elks?

Shirley Miller: Yeah, I remember the Elks.

Andy Miller: And what did we do with the Elks Lodge?

Shirley Miller: We picketed.

Andy Miller: Because?

Shirley Miller: Oh, they wouldn’t let white people in. I mean, not—they wouldn’t let black people in.

Andy Miller: Mm-hmm. And back then the Pasco Elks was—I mean, some people said it was a private club and shouldn’t—they should be able to decide who should be members or not. But what Mom and Dad were upset about and everybody was upset about is, at that time in Pasco, so much of the power structure of the community groups—the Hanford groups would all meet at the Pasco Elks Club.

Shirley Miller: And then blacks weren’t welcome to go in.

Franklin: Right. So thereby excluded from—

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Franklin: From the power structure of the community.

Andy Miller: Right. And so, Mom, what did—what happened, were you and Dad invited to other functions, like political functions and community functions at the Elks Club? And people invite you to dinner at the Elks Club?

Shirley Miller: Yeah, but we didn’t go.

Andy Miller: Right. And you lost some friends over that.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Andy Miller: And you always say that—that one march that we talked about one time picketing, who was there when you were picketing?

Shirley Miller: I can’t remember.

Andy Miller: Dad’s boss.

Shirley Miller: Oh, yes, uh-huh.

Franklin: Jeez, wow. He was—you were picketing at the Elks Club?

Andy Miller: Dad and Mom were picketing an event that was being held at the Elks Club. It was a community event. And I know that Dad and Mom came back—they never backed down, I want to emphasize that—but I remember Mom and Dad came back and Dad was told by a lot of people he worked with that he had hurt his career by picketing at the Elks Club. I think that his—

Shirley Miller: Yes, he was. Yeah, he was told that.

Andy Miller: Yeah, but his boss later talked to him about it, and I think that it ended up being a positive experience. Of course, the Elks Club, I think though it may have been legal action, they ended up discontinuing their policy.

Franklin: Yeah. Well, I also heard about an incident in Kennewick where some Richland High students—I think, was it Norris Brown that told me this? I’ve heard so many stories now that—where there were a group of Richland High students who weren’t allowed to go to a teenage club, because there were a couple black students with them; the black students were excluded. Do you have any memory of that? No? Okay.

Andy Miller: I don’t, because Norris is probably about ten years older than I am.

Franklin: Okay, yeah, yeah. That makes sense. Okay. What were some of the biggest challenges, or the—I don’t want to use the word failure, but some of the biggest—some of the harder things to get accomplished with civil rights, or maybe even failures, things that were tried but weren’t—never fully addressed?

Shirley Miller: What was that?

Andy Miller: Well, he was wondering, what were some of the biggest challenges? Like, what were some of the hardest things you worked on in the civil rights movement?

Shirley Miller: Well, my memory isn’t just—

Andy Miller: Well, I think that—

Shirley Miller: Housing was one.

Andy Miller: Yes. Because even at the end of the civil rights movement, did blacks—did they really, were they able to live in Pasco except east Pasco?

Shirley Miller: No.

Andy Miller: That was something that I think that you—at the meetings that you guys let me go to, was a big issue for people, that that was not an easy thing to get done. As opposed to now, where I think the certain demographics are there in Pasco, located, but not anything like there was.

Shirley Miller: Oh, your memory’s so good.

Andy Miller: Well, I’m mainly remembering things that you told me.

Shirley Miller: Okay.

Franklin: Yeah, you guys are both working well off each other. So I think that’s good. You probably wouldn’t have as much to remember if you weren’t there with him.

Andy Miller: Right. That’s right. And I think the school is—Whittier School. Remember Whittier School, Mom?

Shirley Miller: Yeah, and it was definitely segregated.

Andy Miller: And was Whittier School, were the facilities as good as the other schools in Pasco?

Shirley Miller: What?

Andy Miller: Was Whittier School as nice as the other schools in Pasco?

Shirley Miller: No, unh-unh.

Andy Miller: And that was something that you and Nyla and Iola James, the Jacksons, something that you worked on. That was not, I don’t think that was easy, from my memory of you talking about that. And finally, Whittier School was closed, is that right?

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Where did the students—did the students then get bussed out to other—

Andy Miller: I think they were dispersed, and I think that there was issues about the lack of fairness, the way that was handled. My memory, just being told of the time, was Whittier School was closed, but then that wasn’t an instant solution, because the way they were dispersed and everything was not fairly handled, is my memory.

Franklin: Right. What about—were you involved with the redevelopment, the Urban Renewal, in Pasco?

Andy Miller: I think he’s talking about Art Fletcher. I think he was involved in some of that.

Franklin: Yeah. Were you involved in that as well?

Shirley Miller: Went to meetings, but not as a leadership.

Franklin: Okay.

Shirley Miller: He did that.

Franklin: He was a big—he was the—who was Art Fletcher?

Andy Miller: He was an African American in Pasco.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Andy Miller: And I think he was on the city council, and he actually authorized, I think, or helped create some self-help projects and Urban Renewal.

Shirley Miller: Uh-huh, he was very active.

Andy Miller: But I do remember, speaking of tensions, I think that—I don’t think the approach he was taking was not universally advocated by a lot of the African Americans in Pasco. And I think there were some disagreements. But the people you’re talking to would have a better handle on that. I think Wally Webster was the first director of the Community Action Committee.

Shirley Miller: He was very active. Talk to him.

Andy Miller: He’s going to talk to him pretty soon. But I think he replaced another CAC director. And there was some controversy over that.

Shirley Miller: I can’t remember anyway.

Andy Miller: I think Pat Cochrane was the prior director.

Shirley Miller: Oh, oh, yeah. And he—yes, we wanted him rather than Pat Cochrane.

Andy Miller: Yes. And then Art Fletcher later on became involved in the Republican party and ran for lieutenant governor and he actually got a high job with the, I think, HEW in Washington, DC.

Franklin: Right, under the Nixon Administration.

Andy Miller: Under the Nixon Administration, that’s correct.

Franklin: Yeah, I’ve heard lots of people have mentioned that, oh, he went on to be in the Nixon Administration. How did the larger national civil rights movement influence civil rights efforts in the Tri-Cities?

Shirley Miller: I think it influenced but not—what do you think?

Andy Miller: I think you’re right, influenced. A lot of the marches that we went to in Pasco were to support what was happening in the South.

Shirley Miller: Uh-huh, definitely.

Andy Miller: Like after the bombings on—

Shirley Miller: Oh, yes, they were, too.

Andy Miller: And to build support. They also—and I do remember Mom and Dad talking, and they certainly understood, but CORE changed its emphasis during that time on a national level.

Shirley Miller: And CORE became much more active locally after that.

Andy Miller: Yes, CORE did. And then later when CORE changed is that CORE then became more of a thing, that CORE was more of a group for African Americans, as opposed to African Americans and whites. And that—you and Dad talked about that here.

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Andy Miller: Whereas NAACP remained more of an integrated organization. Is that—my memory right?

Shirley Miller: Right.

Franklin: So CORE became kind of more exclusive then, or they—

Andy Miller: I want to emphasize that Mom and Dad never felt upset with the local CORE leadership.

Shirley Miller: No, unh-uh.

Andy Miller: But I think there was an acknowledgement that while NAACP continued its traditional approach, that CORE really wanted to foster leadership among African Americans and so they could be frank with each other and work on that, which reflects what CORE was doing on a national level at that time.

Franklin: Right, right, right. Thank you. What was different about civil rights efforts here, compared to the national civil rights effort?

Shirley Miller: I don’t know. What did you think?

Andy Miller: Well, I mean, we were not down in the South. We certainly didn’t have police dogs break up demonstrations, and there wasn’t probably some of the blatant things that happened in the South.

Shirley Miller: Oh, not at all.

Andy Miller: No one was—there were no bombings or no killings here. So that was certainly different, though there was pushback. Mom, do you want to talk about some of the phone calls you got back then?

Shirley Miller: What do you mean, the phone calls?

Andy Miller: When you would go to a meeting in Pasco or go to a protest in Pasco, what kind of phone calls you would get later?

Shirley Miller: For me to stay home, because I wasn’t a member of Pasco. Yeah, I had that.

Franklin: Wait, who were the phone calls from?

Shirley Miller: People in Pasco.

Andy Miller: But did they tell you their name, or were they just telling you kind of anonymously to stay out?

Shirley Miller: Anonymously and some would say where they worked.

Franklin: Oh.

Shirley Miller: Like I work over in east Pasco, or I work here.

Franklin: These were presumably white people calling to harass you to tell you to stay home and don’t get involved?

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Yeah, wow. Did that happen a lot?

Shirley Miller: No, but it happened some. Enough to bother me.

Franklin: Yeah. Was there any kind of way you could report that, or was it just something that you had to face, endure?

Shirley Miller: Yeah, I didn’t report it to anyone, other than other people in the group.

Franklin: Right.

Andy Miller: But I think the consensus was there would be no point in reporting it, is that right?

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Just kind of look the other way?

Andy Miller: Right.

Franklin: Did your husband or your father ever face any reprisals or anything from his work in civil rights? Any like job or, with his employment or anything?

Andy Miller: I do remember a story that when one of his bosses retired that he was told that he may have been named president, if it wasn’t for his wife causing all these problems in Pasco.

Shirley Miller: Oh, yeah, I remember that.

Andy Miller: But Dad—I want to emphasize, Dad ended up being promoted to executive vice president of United Nuclear and so he had professional success. But I think there was—he received some pushback at work.

Shirley Miller: Yes, there was pushback at work.

Andy Miller: But Dad always discounted it and said it didn’t bother him. Is that a fair--?

Shirley Miller: Right.

Franklin: Oh, that’s wonderful. When you came here, and when you grew up here, Andy, what did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford?

Andy Miller: You know, I—well, we knew that most African Americans, when they were brought up here, had to live in east Pasco. So we had that understanding.

Shirley Miller: Yes, that was very, uh-huh. And it was very true.

Andy Miller: But I will say that CBC’s had a recent exhibit and there’s been some writings on books, and I will say I learned a lot of that, the real history of African Americans in the Tri-City area for the first time just a few years ago. And coming from my family, it shows, if I wasn’t as aware as I should’ve been, people in the Tri-Cities just don’t want to talk about it. And I think you still see some of that now. People—there’s still a reaction of, why are we talking about what happened 60 years ago?

Shirley Miller: Yeah, that’s definitely true.

Andy Miller: But it just—it wasn’t discussed as much 50 years ago as clearly it should’ve been.

Franklin: Yeah, I’ve heard that same kind of thing. Luckily not when I brought up this project, specifically, but—actually, I did hear that in a meeting of an organization I belong to, the B Reactor Museum Association. An out-of-town member who was wondering why we were focusing on all this.

Andy Miller: Right.

Franklin: All these black people, when whites made up the majority of workers anyway, so we should be focusing on them, was something like the comment. I’m wondering—well, I have a follow-up question to that question about African Americans at Hanford during World War II and after. From your perspective, what were their most important contributions in the areas of work, community life and civil rights?

Shirley Miller: What was that question again?

Franklin: From your perspective, what were African Americans’ most important contributions in the areas of work, community life and civil rights?

Shirley Miller: Oh, I don’t know. What do you--?

Andy Miller: Well, I think he’s just saying, what makes you the most proud? I think, Mom, weren’t you always impressed—I think you were equally impressed by the people you met in east Pasco and the professionals in Richland, as far as showing a lot of leadership and courage—

Shirley Miller: Yeah!

Andy Miller: --in trying to integrate the Tri-Cities.

Shirley Miller: Uh-huh.

Andy Miller: And—

Shirley Miller: Gosh, these are so questions of olden time.

Franklin: Yeah, that’s the conflict in doing oral history, is that we often don’t think to start asking these questions until a long time has passed and we want to really know what happened.

Shirley Miller: Gosh, I got stuff in my hair.

Franklin: Because we don’t think it’s history when it’s happening, and then when we realize we need to get it, it’s often—that’s why I really appreciate you sitting down with us.

Andy Miller: I do have a memory, too, of—especially African Americans in Richland, I think were held to a different standard sometimes. They all had to be successful and perfect behavior. And you talk to some of them and their parents, it was acknowledged that I could do something, and an African American student could do the same thing, and the reaction was not going to be the same. And I do remember comments and things like that. So I think there was a lot of pressure, especially on African Americans in Richland going into school. There weren’t that many, and it seemed like, and often many of them talked about, being on display at all times.

Franklin: Yeah, that—people have alluded to that, but I don’t think have stated it quite as succinctly as you did. Although maybe they wouldn’t have wanted to—that certainly seems—one of the things that’s come across, especially a lot of the Mitchells and the Browns were told, you know, you got to just be the best student you can be, and turn the other cheek and things like that.

Shirley Miller: I can imagine that, and they acted that way, too.

Andy Miller: Yes, and Duke Mitchell was two years ahead of me in high school, and he was. He was one of those people everybody in the high school looked up to. He was, I guess, kind of perfect. And he got a scholarship. He went to Air Force Academy, I think.

Franklin: : Yeah.

Andy Miller: But I think, it’s nice that he’s come back and he’s leading a lot of the efforts now. But he was kind of an example of somebody who—if there was a double standard, he always met it. But I always looked at him and thought about some of the pressure he was under all the time.

Franklin: Yeah, I would imagine so. Shirley, did you ever work at Hanford?

Shirley Miller: Yes, I worked at Hanford.

Franklin: Oh, and what did you do?

Shirley Miller: Well, I was not a professional. I was kind of a—

Andy Miller: File clerk? Secretary?

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Franklin: What time period was this?

Shirley Miller: I can’t—what time period?

Franklin: Yeah, what—

Andy Miller: Was it before I was born or after I was born, or both?

Shirley Miller: Both. I mean, I had to quit because I was pregnant with you.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Andy Miller: And she came out here with a master’s in counseling and biology from—she got her master’s in KU and a master’s from Northwestern, and the only job she could get here in the early ‘50s was as a file clerk.

Shirley Miller: [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: That’s saddening but not surprising. My grandmother had a PhD from Cornell in molecular—in biology, and never worked professionally because no one would hire her to do a man’s job in the ‘50s and ‘40s.

Andy Miller: Right, yeah.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Franklin: Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. Did you ever use your degree in any way? Did you ever have professional work?

Shirley Miller: Did I ever get professional work?

Franklin: Yeah.

Shirley Miller: I don’t know. I think that I did, didn’t I?

Andy Miller: Well, you ended up owning a bookstore. An independent book store along with a couple other women. A very successful business.

Shirley Miller: Oh, yes.

Andy Miller: So she used her skills in that.

Franklin: Where was that?

Shirley Miller: In Richland.

Andy Miller: Uptown Richland, called the Book Place.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Interesting.

Andy Miller: And you worked at a college instructor for a while, too.

Shirley Miller: Uh-huh.

Andy Miller: At Central Washington.

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Oh, great. Okay. Let’s see here. I’m just trying to figure out what the rest of my questions fit. Did you participate in many social events in east Pasco or in the African American community, like cookouts or Juneteenth or things like that? Or was your involvement mostly with civil rights? I mean, were you close with African American families?

Andy Miller: Yes. Mom, he’s just talking about sometimes we’d just go into Pasco just to have like a barbecue.

Shirley Miller: Yeah, uh-huh.

Andy Miller: And sometimes it’d just be completely social.

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Andy Miller: And then in Richland, the same thing?

Shirley Miller: Yes, right.

Andy Miller: And then what would happen when you were living on the river, what would happen when you would extend the invitation to African American families?

Shirley Miller: I would have sometimes objections that people didn’t like me to have African Americans swim in the river next to us.

Andy Miller: Yeah, at the time we lived on—well, Mom still lives on Ferry Road which is about half a mile south of WSU Tri-Cities. So, live on the river, and back then, it was different. There was a little swimming beach down there. And Mom does remember—not many of the neighbors would confront her directly, but they would talk about her a lot. And didn’t understand why she was bringing African Americans to north Richland. Is that a fair--?

Shirley Miller: Right, fair.

Franklin: And you actually got complaints about them swimming on the beach in the river?

Shirley Miller: Yeah. But they quit, too. But I kind of quit, too.

Franklin: What was the objection? How would they harm the river? Did they ever explain it to you, or was it just a--?

Shirley Miller: Just a—it was never like a harm that they basically—no, unh-uh. But it was probably the color of their skin.

Franklin: Right, they didn’t want them in their space. In their white space.

Andy Miller: It made them feel uncomfortable, I think. And people didn’t feel like they could go down there and swim in the river when there were African Americans there. And I want to emphasize, not all the neighbors—Mom and Dad had neighbors that were strong with them and all that. It was some of them who usually would forward the complaints. I don’t think it was direct complaints. But then Mom and Dad had neighbors who stood up for them, too.

Franklin: That’s good. Did you attend church?

Andy Miller: Yeah, we went to Central United Protestant Church.

Franklin: Okay. Did you ever go to any of the traditionally black churches in east Pasco?

Andy Miller: Yes. And that was an experience. And I remember—Mom, remember the first time I went? Because our church was you were silent for the entire hour. And I just remember being stunned within three minutes. It was exciting, I mean, the back and forth, and the enthusiasm. And sometimes we would go to church for a specific reason: they would have a specific service. I know they had one when Dr. King was killed. But then sometimes there’d be a reason that we’d be invited by a family just to attend church. Certainly different experience.

Franklin: Did the church play—

Andy Miller: Morning Star Baptist was—

Franklin: Morning Star. And New Hope, as well.

Andy Miller: New Hope, mm-hmm.

Franklin: Did the church play a special or different role in the African American community as compared to the white community?

Shirley Miller: I don’t know.

Andy Miller: Well, people talked about the churches.

Shirley Miller: Yes, uh-huh. Yeah, they talked about it, yes. The churches are more of an important part to them.

Andy Miller: Yes, and sometimes, some people, some of the African Americans in the civil rights movement did not see eye to eye with ministers on certain issues. Is that right, or--?

Shirley Miller: Yeah, uh-huh. I can’t remember all of this.

Franklin: : A lot of the civil rights movement came out of the churches, right?

Andy Miller: Right.

Franklin: A lot of the ministers—

Shirley Miller: Yeah, the ministers played an important role.

Franklin: Was that the same in the Tri-Cities as well? Were some of the folks prominent here, were they also prominent church people?

Andy Miller: Well, yeah, I mean, you mentioned Reverend Wilkins. He was certainly prominent here.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Andy Miller: And a lot of the events happened at the churches. And the churches, a lot of times, formed the base of the—

Shirley Miller: Yeah, I think the church were kind of the leaders, yeah.

Franklin: So many of the African Americans that came to the area migrated from the South that we know.

Andy Miller: Especially Texas.

Franklin: Especially Texas, right. Do you recall any traditions or community activities that people brought from the places they came from?

Andy Miller: Do you remember any Southern traditions or anything, Mom?

Shirley Miller: No, I don’t.

Andy Miller: I don’t, either.

Shirley Miller: But there could easily have been. But I can’t remember.

Franklin: That’s okay. Let’s see here. We talked about—I think we talked pretty much about the rest of that. I just have a couple, like a couple large questions. How did you feel at the time about working near or on—your family working on the development of nuclear weapons?

Shirley Miller: How did I feel?

Franklin: Yeah.

Shirley Miller: I accepted. Was I proud? I don’t think so. But I think I just accepted it as a part of the workforce. Huh? What do you say?

Andy Miller: Yeah, I think—

Shirley Miller: I think my husband was proud.

Andy Miller: And—

Shirley Miller: He was definitely proud.

Andy Miller: And he was active in the B Reactor Museum, later on. They certainly talked about the effects of the nuclear bomb and the effect of the atomic bombs in Japan. But on the other hand, the other side of that is how many people would’ve been killed if not for the bombs.

Shirley Miller: Yeah, that was definitely—

Andy Miller: Probably was not talked about in Richland as much, but it certainly was talked about in family. But my dad always also maintained that no one made him work there. So he understood the role of nuclear weapons during the Cold War and as just part of the foreign policy.

Franklin: Right. How do you feel now about that experience? Kind of looking back on the Cold War and looking at the environmental restoration that has to be done?

Andy Miller: Well, Dad always talked about the safety and the waste issues and I know that he reflected there’s a—there’s some things that he wished they had done differently, but he also was proud of some of the things that they did do. That was an important issue to him. But I think that Dad would be—Dad was very progressive in his political views.

Shirley Miller: Yes, he was a very strong democrat and active in the party.

Andy Miller: But I think he would be irritated at times when people would try to impose late 1990s/early 2000s values on people who were living in the Cold War at the time. And I think he did not know that maybe certain revisionist history does not really take into account the actual climate with what the Soviet Union was doing at the time and some of the political decisions that were made.

Franklin: Sure, sure. What do you think is the most important legacy of the Hanford Site?

Shirley Miller: The what?

Franklin: The most important legacy of Hanford.

Shirley Miller: Oh, I don’t know. Well, do you have an idea?

Andy Miller: Oh, I think—people can certainly argue with this—but I think Hanford can be proud of helping end World War II. I think that’s an important legacy. And the Cold War, the work that Hanford did in the Cold War may have prevented more wars during that time period.

Shirley Miller: Okay, that’s—

Andy Miller: Given how the Soviet Union was then. And I think that certainly people would say that perhaps the environmental impact of some of the—when the reactors were being rushed into production, is that better care could’ve been taken of that. And then also I think the benefits of turning the emphasis from weapons to peaceful energy use—

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Andy Miller: --N Reactor—Dad was very involved with N Reactor, and he was very proud of the peacetime use of nuclear energy.

Franklin: Were there many Manhattan Project employees that were still around when you moved here, Shirley, or when you grew up here, Andy?

Shirley Miller: Any what?

Andy Miller: He was wanting to know if people who were here in the 1945, when the Manhattan Project was done, if they were still here when you and Dad moved in the ‘50s and were still here when I was growing up.

Shirley Miller: I think so.

Andy Miller: Yeah. Dad talked very—Dad moved here in ’51 and he really admired a lot of the people, admired the brilliance of a lot of people for getting that accomplished.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Andy Miller: And he always talked about how smart and how hardworking they were.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Franklin: Did you know any African American Manhattan Project workers?

Andy Miller: You know, my—I don’t think my dad made a distinction on that in his telling. I do know that Dad was friends with a lot of people working, because I know that—as I became an adult and came back to the Tri-Cities after law school, many, many times when I was out doorbelling or meeting people, I ran into an African American who would say, are you Norm Miller’s son? And they’d say, well, you know, Norm Miller was one management guy who made me feel comfortable. So Dad had a relationships like that. I don’t know if they were here during the Manhattan Project or not, but I know that Dad had made a lot of friends at Hanford.

Shirley Miller: Yeah.

Franklin: That’s great.

Shirley Miller: I can’t remember.

Franklin: What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford and living in Richland during the Cold War?

Shirley Miller: Hmm?

Andy Miller: What would you like people to know, like, your grandchildren? What would you like them to know, what it was like to live in Richland in the ‘50s and during the Cold War and Dad working at Hanford?

Shirley Miller: Well, I hope not much different than someone living in Seattle. But I would like them to know that, but I mean—wouldn’t you say so?

Andy Miller: Yeah, I want to say, I certainly think we need to debate what happened at Hanford and nothing should be immune to that, but I’m actually, I’m proud of the work that my father’s generation did--

Shirley Miller: I am, too.

Andy Miller: --at Hanford. Especially given the realities and that the main decisions were made by the leaders. And that Hanford is a viable institution going. There were certainly many unique aspects. None of us who were going to school in Richland at the time, none of us had grandparents living around. Mom and Dad—Mom has talked about the social life being different. Everybody in Richland at that time tended to be young, professional couples. And that’s why they had so many bridge clubs and stock market clubs and—

Shirley Miller: Yeah, that’s right.

Andy Miller: A lot of social activities.

Franklin: What is a stock market club?

Shirley Miller: A stock market club?

Franklin: Yeah.

Shirley Miller: Well, you basically get the group together and decide to watch stocks to buy. And if they make money or not. And someone makes better choices than others, and they say, oh, good, Mister.

Andy Miller: There were no extended families, so like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were always not with family, but they were with couple friends that Mom and Dad had. That was our traditions. And that was one thing, I think, that was different than most people’s experience growing up. Because everybody was thrown into this new city together and they had to make everybody together.

Shirley Miller: Yeah, and we had many friends.

Andy Miller: You did. And that’s one reason you got involved in the civil rights movement, is you said you also saw some of the African Americans that were neighbors and that Dad worked with that you thought were treated unfairly.

Shirley Miller: Yeah, right.

Franklin: How so? What would he say about their treatment at work? What sparked that?

Andy Miller: Oh, I think the obvious one was the housing that we already talked about, that was a big issue. And that a lot of businesses in the Tri-Cities would not hire—

Shirley Miller: Not hiring people is one of the things.

Andy Miller: And then there were still social issues. I think that there were certain unfortunate incidents that happened at schools with African American children.

Shirley Miller: Yes, definitely. Definitely.

Andy Miller: You would hear about that.

Franklin: What kinds of incidents at school? Mostly in Pasco or anything in Richland?

Andy Miller: Oh, I think in Richland.

Shirley Miller: In Richland, too.

Andy Miller: The use of the N-word, the taunting, things like that.

Shirley Miller: Mm-hmm.

Andy Miller: And Mom and Dad, I mean, they didn’t put pressure on the kids, but they certainly wanted us to be on the lookout for anything that happened. My younger brother got in a fight after one of his friends was called the N-word, and he got in trouble for getting into the fight. The kid who used the N-word did not get in trouble. So there were issues like that, but I think those were common to our entire country, not just to the Tri-Cities.

Franklin: Right, right. I guess, though, it’s important for people to know that that is a country-wide issue; it wasn’t a Southern issue.

Andy Miller: Right.

Franklin: It was very much an issue in the North and in the West. My last question is kind of a round-up question. Is there anything else you would like to mention related to migration, work, segregation and civil rights and how they impacted your life in the Tri-Cities?

Andy Miller: Is there anything else, Mom, you can think of with having African Americans move here and largely being forced to live in east Pasco? Anything else we haven’t talked about in the interview so far?

Shirley Miller: Other than I think we were made more aware of it than the people who lived back in Pratt, Kansas.

Franklin: How so?

Shirley Miller: Huh?

Franklin: How so? How was it compared to here to Kansas? What was different?

Shirley Miller: I don’t know, I mean, I’m—

Andy Miller: Well, in the North, you certainly had a segregated town of east Pasco, or at least part of it.

Shirley Miller: Yes, uh-huh.

Andy Miller: And that wasn’t the experience of a lot of other people who came here from the North. Is that right?

Shirley Miller. Uh-huh. Yeah, that’s—

Franklin: Were there any African Americans that lived in Pratt? I don’t know much about the size—

Shirley Miller: Segregated.

Franklin: Oh, it was—Pratt was segregated?

Andy Miller: But not many very families lived there.

Shirley Miller: And not many families.

Andy Miller: It was a small farm town.

Shirley Miller: But they had a little different school—I mean--

Andy Miller: A swimming pool.

Shirley Miller: A swimming pool? They didn’t use the same swimming pool as we did.

Andy Miller: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Did it surprise you to find segregation in Washington State?

Shirley Miller: Yeah, uh-huh. Richland didn’t have segregated swimming pools. We all used the same swimming pool.

Franklin: Right. But Pasco was kind of de facto segregated, just by where people could live and what jobs they could have and when they could go to Kennewick. Oh, we didn’t ask you about that. The sign that was on the bridge, do you recall the sign that was on the bridge, the old green bridge leading into Kennewick?

Shirley Miller: No, unh-uh.

Franklin: To Pasco.

Andy Miller: We’ve never seen a sign, and over the years we’ve heard the debate whether or not there was a real sign or whether that was something said—certainly, just based on the experience helping the Slaughters, there was no one living in Kennewick and there was certainly attitudes, but I’ve just heard different debates whether or not there was an actual ordinance in place, a real sign, or just something—that’s a research project.

Franklin: Me, too. No, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to track it down, whether it’s—certainly, yes, certainly there was that attitude. The attitude was very plain, but whether there was a physical manifestation of it remains to be seen. Yeah, we’ve still—we were hoping to uncover that in this, and I don’t know if we’re any closer. But we’ve documented the attitude, so that gives us something. Well, if there’s nothing else, I just want to thank both of you, Andy and Shirley. I want to thank you for coming out and sharing your history with us. You know, your history as an ally and everything, so thank you very much.

Andy Miller: Well, thank you!

Franklin: I appreciate it.

Shirley Miller: Thank you!

Franklin: Okay, awesome.

Hanford Sites

General Electric
N Reactor

Years in Tri-Cities Area

1951-

Files

Miller, Andy and Shirley.JPG

Citation

“Interview with Andy and Shirley Miller,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 9, 2020, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/2048.

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