Wilber Miller's Story: Black Air Force Civilians in World War II

By Miller, Richard E. | Negro History Bulletin, December 1993 | Go to article overview

Wilber Miller's Story: Black Air Force Civilians in World War II


Miller, Richard E., Negro History Bulletin


Wilber Britt Miller is an outstanding example of the balck civilians in the American South who helped to "keep them flying" during the Second World War. As one of the few qualified black aircraft mechanics in federal civil service at the start of the war, he was selected in 1942 to lead the cadre of black civilians sent from San Antonio, Texas to establish the Tuskegee Air Depot.

The sone of a Methodist minister, Miller had a rather adventurous youth. He went to France with the U.S. Navy during the First World War, and in the early 1920s he served a "hitch" with the Army's 25th Infantry Regiment. He had always exhibited strong mechanical talents, but when he returned to settle in his native Texas, he found that because of his race he was barred from desirable job opportunities. Then, in 1935, he landed a position as a "helper" at the Army Air Corps' facility for third and fourth echelon aircraft maintenance, the air "depot" at Duncan Field (now Kelly Air Force Base) in San Antonio. In Mr. Miller's words:

It took me three years on the register to get hired. Whenever I'd go out there would be three interviewees; myself and two Whites. They would always call one of the Whites and send me home. Finally, one day I was the only one to report. The man in charge said, "Oh, its you again. Well, I guess I'll have to hire you. Report to the supervisor, and keep your damn mouth shut!"

Now, you need to understand--at that time they didn't even let a black man walk around with a screw driver in his pocket. If they caught you with one they'd fire you. They figured if you used the tools you could become familiar enough to become a "mechanic", and being a "mechanic" was for White men only! We Blacks were all "helpers."

Miller took advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate his intelligence and abilities, eventually winning the respect and support of his supervisors, and mastering the skills of an aviation structural technician. It was not until 1941, however, that he was officially advanced to the rating of junior mechanic.

In July of that year, the first 271 black men graduated from the Army Air Force's enlisted maintenance technician school at Chanute Field, Illinois. Those men were soon transferred to Tuskegee, Alabama, where they serviced training 99th Pursuit Squadron. Within two years most of the enlisted technicians would deploy to the Mediterranean Theater with that squadron as its ground crew members.

Prior to the 99th's departure, it was decided to train a force of black civilian mechanics in San Antonio who would provide ongoing support for the black flight school and service the new air deport at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Accordingly, Wilber Miller was handed his new assignment.

I had five years behind me, he recalls, when they came and asked me to find them 100 men who would make mechanics. I just got them off the street--men who looked like they had potential. I hired them as temporary federal employees at $65.00 a month. I didn't look for skills or experience, but I tried to get high school graduates. That way I knew I couldn't be faulted. A high school graduate had already demonstrated that he could be trained, and they [the Air Force! were going to take care of the training.

the selectees were given up to twelve weeks of basic training at the Duncan Field aircraft mechanic school. It proved to be a very positive experience for all concerned. Despite the low pay, most considered it the opportunity of a lifetime. Racial "integration," however, was not part of the program. Whereas white counterparts might fill billets at facilities in their local communities, the black Texans were obliged to "ship out" for Tuskegee, Alabama, the home for America's "Black Air Force". Mr. Miller continues: "They told me, Take the men to tuskegee--when you get them there we'll advance you to journeyman mechanic. You can come right back, but you have to take them down there and show them around. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Wilber Miller's Story: Black Air Force Civilians in World War II
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.