Books by William Miles

Released: Jan. 1, 1995

The collaborators on a 1990 television documentary with the same title have turned that work into a book, including profiles of recent black astronauts. The vocabulary level is occasionally too high, but clear, straightforward writing makes the text accessible to most. The historical coverage begins with the Tuskegee Experiment, a program to train black fighter pilots in WW II, continues through the 1950s desegregation of the armed forces, the 1960s space race, NASA's 1970s recruitment of minorities, and the shuttle program of the 1980s and 1990s. Burns and Miles pull no punches in their descriptions of how discrimination prevented AfricanAmericans from being the first in space, and how the shuttle missions, which require scientists and not just pilots, have provided more opportunities for blacks. Related with passion and conviction, this is a stirring portrait of a remarkable group of individuals. The book succeeds on not one front, but two: it puts forth the history of the U.S. space program from the perspective of African-Americans, and shows how the space race can be viewed as a paradigm of the civil rights struggle. (B&W photos, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 2, 1992

Companion volume to a PBS documentary on the 761st Tank Battalion, which led the Allied advance in WW II Europe and helped liberate Dachau and Buchenwald. The crux of this remarkable story isn't just the exploits of the 761st, perhaps the best battalion in Patton's Third Army. What really matters is that the 761st was all-black (with white officers) and thus represents, as portrayed here by filmmakers Miles and Rosenblum and screenwriter Potter, the triumph of courage over racism. The emotional highlight of the 761st's saga was the liberation of Jews from two of Hitler's worst concentration camps, described here as ``the coming—in the eleventh hour—of one despised and rejected people to the rescue of another.'' Given this subtext of the struggle for freedom, the writers wisely broaden their horizons and begin with an exposition of the history of black warriors in America—from the story of runaway slave Crispus Attucks up to the eve of WW II, when the US military still denied blacks any real leadership or combat positions. With the war, a crucial opportunity arose, and, thanks to the pleading of Eleanor Roosevelt and others, the 761st was born. In battle, the black tankers made history, not least when their lives intertwined with those of Jewish camp victims. The accounts of liberation are heart- rending (survivor Ben Bender: ``I was seeing black soldiers for the first time in my life, crying like babies, carrying the dead and the starved and trying to help everybody''). The 150 b&w photos included here—of black soldiers triumphant in Hitler's garden; of Buchenwald victims; of a KKK march in Washington, D.C.; of a Jim Crow sign at a bus station in North Carolina—capture the extent of this transcontinental battle for human rights and liberation from terror, and of its almost unbearable poignancy. A hitherto hidden history revealed in all its glory. Read full book review >