Images of William Miles’ productive and remarkable career as a filmmaker was everywhere last Friday at J. Foster Phillips Funeral Home in Jamaica, N.Y., as friends and relatives gathered to offer their final respects. Miles passed on May 12 after suffering a long illness. He was 82.
Near where he was reposed and encircled with colorful wreaths of flowers were photos of Miles at various stages of his wonderful life, and none were more striking than a wedding picture of him and Gloria. It was taken at the beginning of their more than 60 years together in joyous matrimony. Their love affair began in elementary school in Harlem.
The presence of other filmmakers and artists such as Dennis Burroughs, Eric Tait, Duana, Chuck Foster, Leon Goodwin and Nina Rosenblum helped to put Miles’ phenomenal work in a historical and cultural context.
“We must thank Bill for documenting our history, and while he did not require body guards as he moved around, he was nonetheless world-renowned,” said state Sen. Bill Perkins, among those who paid tribute at the service.
Neal Shoemaker, a noted tour guide of Harlem, a community that figured so prominently in Miles’ filmography, noted that Miles was “a great man.” Shoemaker then recounted his experience with Miles while watching his four-part series “I Remember Harlem.”
It is perhaps this chronicling of Harlem, along with “Men of Bronze,” that sealed Miles’ reputation and gave him a permanent place among filmmakers.
“He was awesome and a fighter who never gave up,” Rosenblum said during her brief moment with Goodwin at the podium.
Miles and Rosenblum were co-producers on “Liberators,” which provoked controversy when it was aired on PBS and gave them additional cache in the annals of African-American history.
Interwoven with the obituary read by Miles’ granddaughter, Akira Moore, and the eulogy delivered by the Rev. Victor Hall, was the brilliant musicianship of organist Elmer Hammond, who led everyone in the singing of “Blessed Assurance” and “How Great Thou Art.”
“He touched so many lives, and he made a difference in our lives,” Hall said in recalling the righteous and glorious path of Miles’ odyssey. “What was so wonderful about Bill was his spirit.”
And that spirit was clearly apparent in the martial steps and formidable demeanor of the eight Marine cadets who attended in their resplendent uniforms. Miles would have loved their decorum, and it would have reminded him of the Harlem Hell Fighters he so faithfully depicted in his “Men of Bronze.”
This latter-day depiction of African-American soldiers may not ever be as heroic, but Miles would have found something pertinent to showcase were he around with his camera.
Miles’ memories and accomplishments are matchless. He leaves a host of friends and a splendid family, including his wife; his two daughters, Brenda Moore and Debra Jones; his three grandchildren, Christopher and Akira Moore and Cody Jones; and a coterie of nieces, nephews and cousins.
Internment will be held in Pinelawn Memorial Park, Farmingdale, N.Y.