Historic family reunion

Celebrating 296 years

Michael McGee | 7/22/2013, 12:46 a.m.
“Hasn’t this park come a very long way?” Gail Terrell, a Dallas Park and Recreation board member for District 8, ...
Donald Payton, Miller family historian, addresses the crowd at Miller Family Park during the Miller family reunion. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

“Hasn’t this park come a very long way?” Gail Terrell, a Dallas Park and Recreation board member for District 8, asked the crowd gathered at the Miller Family Park. The crowd replied with joyous exclamations and applause.

Saturday marked the ribbon cutting for the park’s new pavilion and other amenities. Located at 2800 Persimmon Road, the park also is the site of the annual Miller family reunion. This year, kinfolk came together to celebrate 296 years of the family living in America and 166 years of the Miller family in Dallas County.

The park was originally part of the 600-acre Miller farm that John Miller, a former slave, bought in 1874. Fifty years ago his descendants sold part of the land to the city in order to establish a public park in Oak Cliff, according to the city of Dallas. The ribbon cutting represented both new life for the old park and a tribute to the saga of the Miller family.

“It feels really good,” said Amani Ali about the connection of her family to the park and the city’s efforts to improve the property. Ali, secretary of the Miller Family Foundation and a member of the California branch of the Miller family tree, was proud to see so many members of her family together as the city honored the park that bore the family’s name.

“It’s a lot different since the last time I was here,” she said as she acknowledged the recent enhancements. “It’s a lot more beautiful now.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins was also impressed with the changes.

“When I first came here it was dirt, everywhere,” he recalled. “No concrete pavilion. Maybe one water fountain, no playground equipment, no trail. No nothing.”

He spoke about volunteers who came out to clean up the grounds and were stunned by the aura of the park.

“They said, ‘Wow.’ They couldn’t believe that there was an oasis right in the middle of South Dallas,” Atkins stated, then went on to discuss the historical meaning of the park. “Here’s a family who gave something back to the city of Dallas and they bring their family from all over the country, every year, to cherish Miller Park. Why shouldn’t we do something about it?”

Four years ago, Atkins and Dr. Elba Garcia, Dallas County Commissioner, District 4, ensured that the Neighborhood Improvement Program would fund the park.

“Four hundred thousand dollars came here to put a pavilion, to put the trail, to do a landscape, as part of [a] 2006 bond package,” Atkins remarked. “It’s a good deal, to make sure that we do have a place for families to come.”

Donald Payton, Miller family historian, related his thoughts about the origins of the park.

“My great-great-grandfather bought this land nine years after slavery and he started a school,” he said. “He was the wealthiest Black landowner in the Southern Sector of Dallas County.”

Keeping the tradition going of education and family values is what the day was about, Payton remarked, and the new pavilion plays a part in that. He pointed out two decorative metallic stars near the top of the pavilion that represent John Miller and his wife.

“And that light shines down on it which means everybody’s got enough light under this shed, you see. And we’re going to network under here. We’re going to have some literacy classes.”

The thought of the Miller family’s journey, from slavery almost three centuries ago to being a vital part of modern Dallas, was a lot to take in for Adrana Williams, Payton’s younger sister.

“It’s just heartfelt to be able to share this moment with my family and friends, and the history of it,” she expressed “It’s a union, and we’re part of history, so it’s great to have that feeling.”