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Remembering Precursor Charles Miles

Precursors singing
Charles Miles, second from left, sings "The Eyes of Texas" during the 60th anniversary celebration for the first Black undergraduates to enter UT Austin in 1956.

Charles Murray Miles, one of the first Black undergraduates to attend the University of Texas at Austin passed away on Feb. 25, 2020, at the age of 81. Miles enrolled at UT Austin with 110 other Black undergraduates in 1956. He was well known for his storytelling, especially about escapades with other Precursors including Willie Jordan, Albert Hawkins, Lonnie Fogle and Col. Leon Holland, to name a few.

Precursors singing
Charles Miles, second from left, sings “The Eyes of Texas” during the 60th anniversary celebration for the first Black undergraduates to enter UT Austin in 1956.

Miles was born on July 8, 1938, in Hearne, Texas to Millie Ann Miles and John Henry Miles Sr. He attended Blackshear High School in Hearne before coming to Austin in 1956. After graduating from UT with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education, he received a Masters degree in Government from the University of North Texas in Denton.

As an educator, he taught at Kealing Junior High and later as a professor of Government at Austin Community College.

He participated in civic and political life, both on a state and local level, most notably working for the United States Commission on Civil Rights, serving as an assistant to then State Comptroller Bob Bullock, the first African-American to do so, being appointed as a member of the Austin Planning Commission, and working as the Executive Director of the Austin Housing Authority.

Three years ago, the Alcalde magazine interviewed Miles and Holland about their experiences as members of the first Blacks in a class of incoming freshmen. Miles recalled, “Coming to the University of Texas wasn’t a hard decision, because I was young and I wasn’t afraid of anything. The day that I made the trip for the first time, my brother was shipping off to Korea with the military on the very same day. My parents were more concerned about me going off to Austin than him going to Korea!”

UT Austin President Greg Fenves released the following statement in response to Miles’ passing:

Charles Miles helped change The University of Texas for his generation and all subsequent generations. As one of the first African American students to attend UT, Charles and his fellow Precursors made our university better — where discriminatory practices and segregation were replaced by opportunity and inclusivity for all students. This change didn’t happen overnight. Long after Charles graduated, the work of advocating for justice and equality at UT continued, and Charles helped lead the way. Charles graduated from UT, but he never really left the Forty Acres. He continued to work on behalf of UT students throughout his life and now, though he has passed on, his legacy will remain to inspire generations of students.

Miles was a founding member of The Precursors and the group who called themselves “The Dudes.”  The Dudes would gather socially each year at the Texas Relays but the conversation would always include a candid assessment of the University’s efforts to recruit and retain Black students.  Charles and the other Dudes took the next step in creating the The Precursors, a formal organization whose mission would include holding the University of Texas accountable in its actions to recruit and retain Black students.

Miles is survived by three sons–Paul, Charles and Jonathan–and by five siblings. Services will be held at 10 a.m. on March 7, 2020, at St. James Missionary Baptist Church, 3417 E. MLK Blvd., Austin, TX 78721.