By Ciarra Adams
During his college days, Ed Miles Jr. studied alongside civil rights champion Jesse Jackson, the former Democratic presidential nominee.
Though Miles, a leader in the San Antonio community, may not have been in the national spotlight like his fellow North Carolina A&T State graduate, his history of fighting for positive change is in many ways just as consequential.
Working with District Attorney Susan Reed, Ed Miles serves as a director of community projects in San Antonio. This is a hat that affords him the opportunity to work with local and state government as well as various community outlets.
His career has included several governor-appointed executive positions in the state, service as the first African American Mayor Pro-Tem for the City of Live Oak, Texas, and a wide gamut of many honors and accomplishments including the San Antonio Black Achievement Award and the Bexar County Excellence Award.
But success was not something handed to Miles; it was something he was able to achieve with hard work and a mindset to impact others.
“I was raised by my grandparents,” said Miles. “They instilled in me a sense of purpose, and a lesson that when you get education, earn a degree, you have a responsibility to take what you learn and give back to the community and help other people.”
As an African American growing up in the south, he witnessed the nation’s struggles of racial tension first hand.
Miles was a product of segregated education, first in grade school and then in four years at North Carolina A&T State University.
“There were places like Hardees’ restaurants, McDonald’s and there was a big hotel downtown called King Cotton that were all segregated,” said Miles recalling a life in Greensboro, N.C.
“We had to pave the way,” Miles said, remembering his participation in civil rights marches. It was the effort of student demonstrations from his alma mater that spawned the movement to end ‘lunch counter’ segregation across the south.
Graduating with a B.S. in History, Miles furthered his education with master’s degrees from Phillips University in Enid, Okla., the University of Oklahoma, and Troy State University in Troy, Ala.
However, it was during his service as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force where Miles was again greeted with vibes of racial tension.
“I met Ed Miles in 1970, at Aviano Air Base in Northern Italy,” explained Horace Brown, a former Staff Sergeant (E-5) who has remained a close friend of Miles. “It was in the height of racial tension in the military and Aviano was no exception. During the course of that time stationed there, Ed Miles recognized what was going on, and he tried to do what he could to mitigate the situation.”
As a section commander at the time, Miles and others started a black history study group. Airmen stationed on the base would meet and discuss American history and topics related to the Civil Rights Movement. Both blacks and whites attended, Brown described.
Though occasionally members of the group, called the Black Public Action Committee or Black PAC, would grow highly vocal, the meetings were peaceful and bent on being educational. However, some of Miles’ superiors questioned whether the group was a danger in inciting problems on the base.
“Ed, in his attempts to calm down the situation was subjected to what we call ‘midnight disappearance,’” said Brown. “Overnight he was gone. He had been shipped out to Berlin, and we all thought that it was because of his activeness and trying to help blacks deal with the situation at Aviano.”
In Miles’ absence the group continued to meet and eventually gained support from commanding officers.
“We all gave Captain Miles the credit for starting that group, because it became a great way to deal with the issues at the time,” said Brown. “Ed was an integral part of it. He was a positive force in the community in terms of trying to deal with what was then a very hostile environment with race relations.”
Commenting on his work in the military, Miles asserted, “I don’t hold any animosity about what happened. It’s just something that happened in the evolutionary process.”
Miles left the military to pursue more public service positions, using the adversity as fuel to make positive change for others.
He became the first African American to serve as President of the Bexar County Republican Men’s Club. He was appointed by former Governor Bush to serve on the Texas State Board of Medical Examiner’s in 1997 and later reappointed Secretary Treasurer for the Executive Board.
Currently Miles serves on the Board of Directors of United Way and has become a mentor in local education, serving as an adjunct professor of American and Texas Politics for Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, and St. Philip’s College.
Education is one of his core focuses as a community advocate.
“As we look into the future, we still have some of the same issues to deal with that we have for decades,” said Miles. “We have to deal with the quality of education. Without education it is very hard to break out of the condition of poverty. It’s very hard to participate in the American Dream by dropping out of school.”
Other issues that Miles views as important to advocate include healthcare reform, affordable housing and job creation especially for minorities and those in low-income situations.
“The problems we have here to deal with in San Antonio are a microcosm for problems in every major city right now,” Miles stated. “It is important to impact the community—to encourage our kids, to build up strong families and strong communities. We owe it to ourselves to go out with a helping hand for others.”