The 2021 VAF Advocacy Award goes to Mimi and Ron Miller for their advocacy for the preservation and rehabilitation of the broad range of historic resources located in and near Natchez, Mississippi applied consistently and successfully over the course of professional careers that span almost fifty years. Both Mimi and Ron coordinated their preservation efforts and their advocacy as executive directors of Historic Natchez Foundation, Ron as the foundation’s first executive director (1979-2008) and Mimi as its second (2008-2018) after Ron moved temporarily to the Gulf Coast to guide the rehabilitation of more than 270 historic buildings damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Under their leadership, HNF grew into one of the nation’s leading local preservation organizations as they tackled a wide array of projects that recognized and maintained Natchez's unique sense of place.
When Mimi and Ron Miller began their work with Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez already had a reputation for a historic preservation ethic that focused on high-style antebellum mansions. Building on past accomplishments, the Millers inspired new interest in the city’s downtown commercial district, described at the time as “desolate” and “deteriorated”. Working as a team, Ron and Mimi successfully broadened the scope of HNF’s efforts to include the wider range of vernacular buildings the area’s other heritage organizations had previously overlooked. The success of their advocacy is written not only in a revitalized downtown but also in eight historic districts registered during their tenure.
The Millers’ careers in advocacy paralleled the course of the best work in the nation in the last quarter of the twentieth century as they raised the level and scale of concern from single, large residences to the town’s historic commercial center and to its many neighborhoods. This shift in scope brought early attention to Natchez’ African American neighborhoods and required successful synergies between preservation and affordable housing through rehabilitation of remaining historic houses and sympathetic new infill in historic districts. While attention to African American resources and preservation-based downtown revitalization were part of a broader national movement from the 1970s on, these areas of focus and attention to related issues, including bluff erosion that threatened some neighborhoods, reflect a broad-based approach to the preservation of the historic cityscape and cultural landscape of Natchez. The Millers’ commitment to telling the fuller history of Natchez energized their efforts in the 1988 establishment of Natchez National Historical Park, a venue for the fuller interpretation and presentation of Natchez’s rich and diverse history which includes the stories of its Native American and African American residents.
VAF’s 2021 Advocacy Award to Mimi and Ron Miller draws attention to the preservation movement’s long-term association with telling inclusive stories and using the preservation of historic resources and neighborhoods as a key strategy for creating affordable housing. The Millers’ example helps to see the results of the application of this strategy over the long-term in a specific community. The 2021 Advocacy Award also draws attention to the Miller’s energetic documentation of historic resources and the roles they played laying out successful preservation strategies and forging partnerships.
For their efforts that made historic preservation in Natchez more equitable, for scholarship that drew attention to the wider history of their city, for consistent promotion of the sustainable value of existing buildings, for forging innovative partnerships that secured futures for historic buildings and landscapes, and for long careers devoted to the inclusive stewardship of the city’s historic resources, VAF is pleased to award its 2021 Advocacy Award to Mimi and Ron Miller.