Kent County Public Schools commemorated the Emma L. Grason Miller Media Center at H.H. Garnet Elementary School Saturday, Dec. 10. From left are the Rev. Robert Brown, Principal Brenda Rose, Garnet Alumni Association President Peggy brown, Carolyn Brooks of the Chesapeake Heartland Project, Superintendent Karen Couch, special guests Lynn and Melvin Porter and Karen Somerville, who petitioned to have the media center named after Miller.
CHESTERTOWN — Community members joined Kent County Public Schools Saturday morning, Dec. 10 in honoring the legacy of a pioneering educator.
A ceremony was held in H.H. Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown commemorating the work of Emma L. Grason Miller. The school's media center was named in her honor.
Miller served as the supervisor of schools for Black students in Kent County starting in 1911. She was the first was the first African American to hold that title here.
"From concept to concrete, Henry Highland Garnet School is a direct result of a campaign executed and nurtured through the service of Emma L. Grason Miller," said Karen Somerville at the ceremony.
Somerville is a Chestertown resident and leader of the effort to name the media center after Miller. Somerville has received two curation fellowships with Chesapeake Heartland: An African American Humanities Project at Washington College.
"It is truly, truly a privilege to be with you on this auspicious occasion," Somerville told the audience.
She spoke about how Miller rallied parents and community members to purchase land for the Garnet School and for local officials to provide Black students an education beyond the sixth grade.
Miller was born in Baltimore in 1869 and attended the St. Frances School for Colored Girls under Mother Mary Lange, founder of the Catholic Oblate Sisters of Providence and the first African American mother superior.
"Mother Mary Lange was a pioneer and she was Emma Miller's luminary," Somerville said.
Miller graduated from what is now Hampton University in Virginia in 1879, at the end of Reconstruction.
Somerville said Miller faced the challenges of the time and "she was determined to invent opportunities to see her people continue to move forward regardless of naysayers and systemic obstacles."
Miller's daughter and granddaughter also grew up to become educators.
"Three generations of Black female educators tilled this great legacy in the history of Kent County and it's taken over 100 years to put the name of Emma Miller and her offspring on the lips and the hearts of Kent County's educators and scholars," Somerville said.
Among those joining the ceremony Dec. 10 were Miller's great-great-granddaughter Lynn Porter and her husband Melvin Porter of Chestertown; Dr. Curtis Turner and Melissa D'Adamo, head of school and associate head of school, respectively, of St. Frances Academy; and Sharon Knecht, archivist of the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
The ceremony was opened by Garnet fifth-grader Peyton Queen leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Rev. Robert Brown of Bethel AME Church, located next door to Garnet Elementary School, offered an invocation expressing thanks for all those who led the charge in celebrating Miller's legacy.
"May this forever serve as an educational tool, creating conversations around the history of African Americans in Kent County," Brown said in his invocation.
Dr. Karen Couch, superintendent of Kent County Public Schools, thanked Somerville and the Chesapeake Heartland project; the naming committee that reviewed the request and sought community input; the Garnet Alumni Association; and the Kent County Board of Education.
"There are just so many people to thank," Couch said.
Music teacher Jodi Bortz led Garnet students through a performance in the media center.
Peggy Brown, an instructional assistant at Kent County Middle School and president of the Garnet Alumni Association, spoke about Henry Highland Garnet, a famed abolitionist, minister and orator.
Garnet was born into slavery in Kent County and escaped with his parents with help from the Underground Railroad.
"As time went on, he pursued an education from the African Free School, Noyes Academy and the Oneida Institute. He became a
Presbyterian minister and served as pastor in a number of Presbyterian pulpits," Brown said.
Garnet rose to prominence and in 1881 was appointed minister to Liberia. He fell ill and passed away just a few months later.
"It was a wise choice to name this school after him," Brown said. "It has been said that he was the most famous African American in the 19th century."
The naming of the media center at Garnet Elementary School was a project launched through the Chesapeake Heartland project.
Carolyn Brooks and Airlee Ringgold Johnson, the two local community historians with the project, were on hand for the Dec. 10 ceremony.
Brooks said the goal of the Chesapeake Heartland project is to help community members of every generation gain knowledge of the shared history of Kent County and support projects like Somerville's become an integral part of the school curriculum.
The effort to preserve Miller's legacy through the Chesapeake Heartland project included the creation of a documentary about her.
"Visionary in the Heartland: Emma L. Grason Miller" was screened for the audience at Garnet. It can be found at
The ceremony concluded with Lynn Porter and Queen unveiling a sign at the Emma L. Grason Miller Media Center entry celebrating "in honor of her unwavering dedication to attain higher education for Black pupils in Kent County."
Garnet Principal Brenda Rose was then joined outside by Peggy Brown to unveil a sign in front of the school honoring Miller and Garnet.
To learn more about the Chesapeake Heartland project, visit chesapeakeheartland.org.
Melvin and Lynn Porter pose for a photo in the Emma L. Grason Miller Media Center with a portrait of Miller. Lynn Porter is Miller's great-great-granddaughter.
Fifth-grader Peyton Queen and helps Lynn and Melvin Porter unveil the plaque dedicating the Emma L. Grason Miller Media Center at H.H. Garnet Elementary School.
Garnet Alumni Association President Peggy Brown, left, and Principal Brenda Rose unveil a new plaque commemorating the legacies of Henry Highland Garnet and Emma L. Grason Miller.
Karen Somerville, left, joins Principal Brenda Rose for a photo in front of H.H. Garnet Elementary School Saturday, Dec. 10.
Karen Somerville, left, stands with Lynn and Melvin Porter in front of the plaque honoring Lynn Porter's great-great-grandmother, pioneering educator Emma L. Grason Miller.
This new plaque is located in front of H.H. Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown, celebrating the school's history.
A plaque inside H.H. Garnet Elementary School pays tribute to the lasting legacy of educator Emma L. Grason Miller.