Posted on 01/10/2012

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Eliza Ann Miller

Eliza Ann Miller
Eliza Ann Miller, a forerunner of Oprah Winfrey in entertainment entrepreneurship, was the first woman to build and operate a movie theater in Arkansas. This photograph is from the book, 'How I Succeeded in My Business' (1911), by her husband, Rev. A. H. Miller.

She was a businesswoman, philanthropist, wife, mother and author. No reference to Eliza A. Miller's remarkable life would be adequate without multiple descriptors. During a time when African-Americans endured overt racism, and in a region whose name became synonymous with significant economic challenge, Mrs. Miller's self-taught business acumen helped bring growth and prosperity to the Arkansas Delta.

Eliza Ann Ross was born in 1869 in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. In 1887, she married Abraham H. Miller of Helena and the couple had three children who lived to adulthood. The Millers acquired vast amounts of property in Phillips County and Mrs. Miller managed many of the family's business affairs. Her husband credited the increase in rent collections and the acquisition of additional real estate, as well as the overall prosperity of the business to Mrs. Miller's business savvy.

In addition to working as a collector supervisor secretary and bookkeeper, Mrs. Miller served, along with her husband, as trustee to Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. She continued to support the school even after her husband's death in 1913, making significant financial contributions that enabled students to attend the college who, otherwise, could not have afforded the tuition.

Mrs. Miller also provided financial support to several civic and religious organizations. After purchasing land from the Sacred Heart Academy Sisters, Mrs. Miller donated it to the Helena school board so that a high school for black students could be built. The school, dedicated in 1926, was named Eliza Miller High.

In 1970, the school was renamed Eliza Miller Junior High and was subsequently replaced by a park in 1978 which was dedicated to Mrs. Miller.

She was the first woman in Arkansas to build and operate a motion picture theatre. The Plaza Movie Theater was the only black-owned theater in Helena. Mrs. Miller managed it until her death in 1938 .

Bio: Arkansas Black Hall of Fame