William Miles was born in Harlem, New York in 1931 and became a documentary filmmaker whose work focused on the cultural experience and achievements of African-Americans. The Film & Media Archive acquired the Miles Collection in 2005. Materials from the collection include interviews, stock footage, manuscripts, correspondence, and a large collection of photographs.
The subjects of Miles’ films ranged from the unique history of Harlem to the under-reported contributions of African-Americans in the military, the space program, sports, and their role in migration out to the West of the United States.
As a young boy, Miles lived across the street from the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem and was aware of the vibrant African-American culture celebrated there – and equally aware of how the mainstream media in American culture ignored contributions by African-Americans and their stories.
Miles worked for 25 years restoring archival films and early feature classics for Killiam Shows, Inc. and the Walter Reade Organization in New York City; this experience led to his work as an independent director and producer of documentary films.
Based at Thirteen/WNET in New York City, Miles wanted to document the rich history of Harlem and to highlight little-known stories of African American achievements in the military, the arts, sports, and aerospace and exploration.
Miles’ first major production was Men of Bronze (1977), the little-known story of the African American soldiers of the 369th combat regiment, from Harlem, who fought with the French army in World War I. Denied the right to fight in the American forces, the regiment chose to fight with the French, and, at the end of the war, the regiment was awarded high military honors from the French government.
I Remember Harlem (1981) was a four-part series on the history of Harlem, from its beginnings in the 17th century to the early 1980s. With segments on the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression in Harlem, the civil rights movement including Malcolm X’s time in Harlem, and the challenges and problems of the 1970s, I Remember Harlem, is a comprehensive look at this unique borough.
Other major films by Miles are The Different Drummer: Blacks in the Military (1983), Black Champions (1986), Black Stars in Orbit (1990) Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II (1992), and The Black West (1993). Miles also co-produced James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989) an episode of PBS’s American Masters series about the American writer. Miles has won an Emmy Award, been nominated for an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame.