Steven Millner (1971)

Professor of African American Studies, San Jose State University

Sociology captured my intellectual fancy in the 1960s when I discovered its adherents tended to support radical change in America's South. Being a fourth generation ancestor of Freed Blacks from Ohio who had been Underground Railroad supporters that was all I needed to grasp. Going to Berkeley in the early '70s was as good as it got. Those were heady days filled with the competing ideas of Bob Blauner, Neil Smelser, Troy Duster, Hardy Frye, Harry Edwards, Herbert Blumer and so many others. I sat in on some of the early Women's Studies classes and gradually purged myself of my sexism. As importantly I learned from other graduate students such as Jualynne Dotson, Rob Meyer, Jane Grant, Herb Holman, and Al Black. Leaving campus I often ran through and away from circles that included flaming out activists such as Huey Newton. I couldn't graduate soon enough.

Having read everything that Marx, Mao, Blauner, St. Clair Drake, Hortense Powdermaker and Talcott Parsons wrote I was ready to become a working sociologist. I turned down a job from the Ohio State University and signed on to become one of the very first Blacks to teach sociology at the University of Mississippi. In my first class twelve rednecks walked out. As one got up he spat on the floor and muttered that he'd die in hell before he'd accept a nigger sociologist" from California. I knew then that Berkeley had prepared me for the real world. I stayed at Ole Miss on and off for twelve years. Eventually I earned tenure and became a full professor of African-American Studies at San Jose State University. My career has allowed me to do more than a dozen documentaries from William Buckley's Firing Line to HBO specials on the rebellion of Black athletes at Mexico City in the late 1960s. My most important work has probably been with the students of the South who were in the first generation after the Movement and needed to understand why their White and Black worlds had changed so much.l also did five years teaching sociology behind seven steel doors while on staff at Soledad prison.Those "students" loved the study of social change. I now teach the children of a California that has changed utterly from the one I first encountered when I got off a Santa Fe Chief train at eleven years of age and began walking through the streets and alleys of South Central Los Angeles. Berkeley helped get me ready to understand every social realm my life has offered.

Dissertation Title: 
Montgomery Buss Boycott: Case Study in the Emergence and Career of a Social Movement