Loren Miller was a municipal court judge and housing discrimination specialist whose involvement in the early stages of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT earned him a reputation as a tenacious fighter for equal housing opportunities for minorities.
Miller was born January 20, 1903, in Pender, Nebraska, the son of a post–Civil War migrant from the South. His family moved to Kansas when he was a boy, and he graduated from high school in Highland, Kansas. Later, he attended the University of Kansas; Howard University; and Washburn University, in Topeka, Kansas, where he earned his bachelor of laws degree in 1928. He was admitted to the Kansas bar the same year, and practiced law there for one year before moving to California to pursue his first interest, journalism. He worked for the California News, a Los Angeles newspaper, from 1929 to 1933.
Miller returned to the field of law when he married and was admitted to the California bar in 1933. By the 1940s, he was raising his voice in protest over policies and practices that discriminated against African Americans. In the wake of WORLD WAR II, many blacks had left their rural and southern homes to seek economic opportunity in California, only to face discrimination and bias, particularly in housing. By 1947, Miller had represented more than one hundred plaintiffs seeking to invalidate housing covenants that prevented blacks from purchasing or renting housing in certain areas. As a board member of the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU), he became a well-known spokesman for the rights of minorities to enjoy equal access to housing and education. He was openly critical of
the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), declaring that FHA policies fostered a Jim Crow policy that kept blacks confined to "tight ghettos" and provoked racial tension. Commenting on the effect of racially restrictive covenants, he noted that contrary to the claims of those who supported the covenants, residential SEGREGATION did not preserve public peace and GENERAL WELFARE but rather resulted in "nothing but bitterness and strife."
In 1954 Miller's love of journalism prompted his return to the newspaper business. He became the owner and publisher of the California Eagle, a weekly newspaper with wide circulation in the African American community. He also contributed numerous articles to such journals as the Crisis, the Nation, and Law in Transition. Later, Miller was named cochair of the West Coast legal committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In that capacity, he became the first U.S. lawyer to win an unqualified verdict outlawing residential restrictive covenants in real estate sales that involved FHA or VETERANS ADMINISTRATION (VA) financing. Perhaps the most celebrated case Miller was involved in was Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 68 S. Ct. 836, 92 L. Ed. 1161 (1948), in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared that racial covenants on property cannot be enforced by the courts.
Miller was one of the first to recognize that bias in housing would be an explosive social issue in the United States. The greatest tension, he predicted, would exist where an all-white area adjoined an all-black area, because "there white Americans stand eternal guard to keep their Negro fellow Americans out." He denounced as "money lenders" and "hucksters of prejudice" the owners of slum properties where many members of minorities are forced to live under substandard conditions because of the "artificial housing shortages … in the Negro community."
In 1964, Governor Edmund G. Brown of California appointed Miller to the Superior Court of California, where he served until his death. He was vice president of the NAACP (1961–66); a member of the NAACP's National Legal Committee and of its National Board of Directors (1956–60); a member of the national committee of the ACLU; and vice president of the National Bar Association, an organization of African American attorneys. Miller was also a member of the California Advisory Commission on Civil Rights, vice president of the National Committee against Discrimination in Housing, and a member of the NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND.
In 1966, Miller wrote The Petitioners: The Story of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Negro, a book that recounts the vital role of the U.S. Supreme Court in shaping the lives of African Americans in the U.S. He and his wife, Juanita Ellsworth Miller, had two sons, Loren Jr., and Edward. Miller died in Los Angeles on July 14, 1967.