Ken was from Trinidad, was sent to Oxford on a scholarship, was brilliant, articulate, and a great friend. In the early 1960s he and his partner, Francelle Carapetyan, were
Swinging England on the Stanford campus. Ken was 6'3" with 4 inches of hair going up from there, and just a physical presence. He—along with Keith, Eli, Charlie Li, and I think someone else—carried the
We Support the Viet Cong sign at one of the teach-ins. People started asking questions.
This being the 1960s, Ken was also aware of what was going on in popular culture. One of his accomplishments at Oxford was booking the Rolling Stones to play a graduation dance before they hit it big. He also knew American music—Ken introduced me to an amazingly good album—The Super Super Blues Band, which was Muddy Watters, Howlin' Wolf, and Bo Diddly. He brought the English Aftermath album to parties—and SCPV had a lot of parties—which remains a favorite album to this day, despite having
Under My Thumb on it.
Bruce and Jane Franklin may remember a heated discussion with them on one side and Ken, Francelle, Vicky, and me on the other on the artistic and political merits of *The Train* as opposed to *Bonnie and Clyde.*
A lot of us loved him. Still do.
The year 1966 began with a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam. By February, that pause was ending. Members of the Stanford community posted a notice in The Stanford Daily regarding a meeting to protest the resumption of the bombing. The meeting was scheduled for Lytton Plaza on Saturday February 5th. The notice was signed by a number of people, including Ken Mills, at that time an Instructor of Philosophy at Stanford. Ken was also one of the speakers that day.
Georgia Kelly writes of Ken and Francelle:
How could anyone forget Ken Mills? In ’66 and ’67, there seemed to be a party at someone’s house every Friday or Saturday night. Ken and Francelle were at all of them, dressed Carnaby St. style. They were so ultra-cool that I think all of us were inspired by them—except I remember thinking Francelle was too submissive (he even picked out her clothes!). Ken gave some of the first classes at the Free University, Dialectical Materialism—before the hippies took it over.
The two moved to the East Coast in 1968, where Ken obtained a post at Yale and Francelle obtained a post at Choate. Per Time Magazine:
Kenneth Ian Leighton Mills is not, in his own words,an Old Blue member of the Yale inner circle.On the contrary, he is a heavy-shouldered, 6-ft. 4-in. black from Trinidad with a towering Afro hairdo and a penchant for blue jeans. He is also an avowed Marxist. Nonetheless, as a pupil of Oxford's distinguished logician AJ. Ayer, he so impressed the Yale philosophy department that he was hired in 1968 to teach courses on revolution and black liberation. And when Yale confronted the threat of a May Day riot two years ago, he worked diligently to help keep the peace.
Ken’s immersion in politics continued at Yale, where he provided support and mentoring to students protesting war and racism—protests that had many parallels to what was going on at Stanford. His participation can be gleaned from comments that appeared in the school newspaper, the Yale Daily News.
In 1968, as a visiting professor of philosophy, he began teaching a seminar titled,
In November, 1969, a new waitress in one of the dining halls, working during a 30-day trial period, was fired. The administration said it was for “due cause.” Students disagreed. In protest, they occupied the University Personnel Offices in Wright Hall for four hours, and prevented four University employees from leaving. Forty-seven of the students were then suspended. As stated in Yale Daily News:
Kenneth Mills, assistant professor of philosophy, who was serving as counsel to one of the suspended students stated, “he Brewster scenario denies the students due process. They are treated as they could not be under the law.
A few days later, critical of University President Brewster’s approach, Mills stated,
The relationship between Brewster and the faculty was like that between King and courtiers.
Meanwhile, the college was ramping up for its participation in the anti-war action to be held in November 13–15. Among the teach-ins scheduled was one conducted by Kenneth Mills,
Vietnam and the Policy of Counter-revolution.
In April, 1970, French film director Jean-Luc Godard visited Yale and met with students. Godard explained,
our films are just a tiny screw in the revolution, but a screw nevertheless. Mills held that a dialectical discussion was impossible between a revolutionary filmmaker and a Yale audience, stating,
Not until a storm breaks will people sitting here at Yale begin to understand that there is an entirely different world outside, of people who are daily oppressed.
At this same time, New Haven was to site of a series of criminal prosecutions against various members of the Black Panther Party, which had repercussions on the Yale campus. Nine Yale colleges voted to strike, in a show of solidarity with the Panther defendants. A mass meeting attended by 4500 students and faculty was held April 22. The speakers included Panther Chief of Staff David Hilliard, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Kenneth Mills, and black community leaders Ronnie Johnson and Bob Sams.
Another rally was held on April 30. 2500 students attended. Kenneth Mills delivered the keynote address. As reported in the Yale Daily News:
The meeting, which was chaired by William Farley and Kurt Schmoke, both 1971, featured John Froines of the Chicago conspiracy, Doug Miranda, area captain of the black Panthers, and Kenneth Mills, assistant professor of philosophy…
Mills received the greatest applause of the evening. Discussing the importance of continuing the strike after the weekend, Mills said,We aren’t going back. We want to see justice done, we intend to see justice done.Over half the audience rose to applaud Mills.
Mills said,There is one clear and simple demand—that is, free Bobby, free the Panthers.He warned earlier,We are not going to tolerate the lynching of the Panthers in New Haven.
He urged the audience toforget your semantic distinctions on the demands and start dealing with the issues.
On May 1, an outdoor rally was held on the Green, with approximately 10,000 people in attendance. Mills addressed the rally and stated,
We struggled to close Yale down in order to open it up to reality. The struggle has only begun. He added that Black Panther repression
cannot go on, must not go on, and is not going to go on.
On May 13, Mills opened the three-day National Strike Conference at the Law School Auditorium, stating,
If you are striking only against the war in Southeast Asia, you are making a fundamental error… We must hold the line against the road of reaction upon which the United States is poised, for this road can only lead to Fascism.
In 1972, Kingman Brewster suspended Kenneth Mills for one year. His crime: Ken held a full-time, tenured position at the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York, while also holding a position at Yale. This double commitment was against the rules, as specified in the Yale Faculty Handbook.
Although the rules were clear-cut, the suspension was controversial. As reported by James M. Markham in The New York Times:
Since Professor Mills is widely acknowledged to have been an outstanding teacher and lecturer at Yale (as well as at Stony Brook), his suspension has generated a lively, if occasionally self-conscious debate over the outside commitments of other Yale faculty members and whether they have less time for their students than he did…
In keeping with his role as outsider, Professor Mills raised the larger issue of extramural faculty commitments in a ringing 15‐page retort to Mr. Brewster's decision.
There are faculty members,he wrote,who spend time doing extensive consulting, who write best sellers, introductory textbooks, or columns for popular magazines—all of which do not necessarily contribute to scholarship of teaching, but which earn substantial amounts of money while requiring large amounts of time.
A lot of people, though they don't hold a second job, are absent from the university, spiritually and mentally,observed Arthur Galston, a prominent biologist who also has been active in campaigning against American defoliation and bombing in Vietnam. He feels the punishment given Professor Mills was too harsh.
Professor Mills—who acknowledged that he had made a mistake in accepting the Stony Brook appointment, which he has resigned effective this June—said in a conversation that he took the second job last year because of uncertainty over his prospects for promotion at Yale and an attraction to the possibility ofinnovativeteaching at Stony Brook.
Mills resided at Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Connecticut, where his wife, Francelle Carapetyan, was a faculty member, from 1975 until his death in 1983. Apparently he was chronically ill during a portion of that time. In 2013, the Choate administration received two reports from graduates alleging sexual misconduct by faculty occurring years earlier when they had been students. An independent investigation was undertaken, and a report issued in 2017. This report identified twelve former Choate faculty members who engaged in substantiated instances of sexual misconduct with Choate students. Kenneth Mills was one of the faculty members identified.
Years later, when Harvard professor Louis Gates looked back on his Yale College experience, he remarked:
Six black men, each intellectually superior in their own way, graduate from Yale College in the Class of 1966. Each had managed, through some luck and a lot of pluck, to penetrate the iron-clad barriers that have kept the number of blacks matriculating at Yale to a fixed number for the past several decades. When I entered Yale in 1968, ninety six black men and women entered with me, the largest group of Afro-Americans ever to arrive on Yale's Old Campus at one time.
Those of us who availed ourselves of it had quite a lot of mentors. After all, Bobby Seale and the New Haven 9 were on trial just a block or two away. Among the black faculty were Bryce Laporte, Austin Clarke, Houston Baker, and John Blassingame and Ken Mills. Mills, a Trinidad-born, Oxford-trained analytic philospher, who stood six feet six, wore a blue jean suit, had a harelip, drove a TR-6 and sported a conical-shaped Afro. He was the voice of the Revolution itself, Marx and Marcuse in black face; pulling quotes from Hegel and Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Fanon, Gramsci and Mad, out of thin air like Svengali, in a classical Oxbridge accent that the Anglophile wannabees on the Yale faculty could only envy. Ken Mills was bad, if ever bad there was, as bad as he wanted to be, and on the white boy's own terms! All of the black faculty were race conscious, and passionately concerned that we succeed; each was a cultural nationalist in one way or another.
Dialectical Materialism, course offered by Ken Mills, Association for the Free University of Palo Alto (Winter 1966 Catalog), p. 10. Link
Meeting to Protest Resumption of Bombing, The Stanford Daily, Volume 149, Issue 5, 4 February 1966. Link
New Seminars, Yale Daily News, No. 64, December 13, 1968. Link
‘Sidewinder’ Cancelled, Brustein Faces Blacks, by William A. Henry III, Yale Daily News, No. 70, January 8, 1969. Link
Restructuring Debate, by Robert A. Schneider, Yale Daily News, No. 124, April 21, 1969. Link
Brewster’s Response, by George Kannar, Yale Daily News, No. 132 April 30, 1969. Link
45 Suspended After Wright Hall Occupation, Yale Daily News, No. 38, November 4, 1969. Link
Suspended 47 Confront Committee; Students Call for Mass Meeting, by Marvin Olasky and Tom Warren, Yale Daily News, No. 40, November 6, 1969. Link
March Committee Sets Teach-Ins, by Jeffrey Gordon, Yale Daily News, No. 41, November 7, 1969. Link
Suspended 47 Still in Limbo; Committee Meets Again Today, by Douglas Hallett and John Coots, Yale Daily News, No. 42, November 10, 1969. Link
Godard Talks Revolution, Yale Daily News, No. 123, April 20, 1970. Link
Nine Colleges Vote to Strike, Respond to Solidarity Call, by Thomas Kent and Richard Schwartz, Yale Daily News, No. 125, April 22, 1970. Link
Mass Rally Called For Ingalls Tonight, by William Bulkeley, Yale Daily News, No. 130, April 29, 1970. Link
2500 Students at Mass Meeting Hear Pleas for Continued Strike, by William Bulkeley, Yale Daily News, No. 131, April 30, 1970. Link
Of Politics and Semantics, from a panel discussion among Kai Erikkson, professor of sociology and master of Trumbull College; Kenneth Keniston, professor of psychiatry; Kenneth Mills, assistant professor of philosophy; and moderator Jeffrey Gordon, Yale Daily News, No. 132, May 1, 1970. Link
Rally Hits Racism, by Michael Sherman, Yale Daily News, No. 133, May 2, 1970. Link
National Strikers Hold Conference to Plot Strategy, Yale Daily News, No. 140, May 14, 1970. Link
Ban on Yale Professor Stirs Campus, by James M. Markham, The New York Times, February 29, 1972. Link
Education: The Moonlighter, Time, March 13, 1972. Link
Are We Better Off? an essay by Louis Gates, Jr. in preparation for the FRONTLINE report,
Two Nations of Black America, posted on PBS WGBH. Link
Black Panther Party support Groups, KeyWiki. Link