Director William Miles, right, next to Nina Rosenblum, during the filming of “Liberators.” | By BRUCE WEBER
“William Miles, a self-taught filmmaker whose documentaries revealed untold stories of black America, including those of its heroic black soldiers and of life in its signature neighborhood, Harlem, where he himself grew up, died on May 12 in Queens. He was 82.
The cause was uncertain, but Mr. Miles had myriad health problems, including Parkinson’s disease and dementia, said his wife of 61 years, Gloria.
Mr. Miles was part historical sleuth, part preservationist, part bard. His films, which combined archival footage, still photographs and fresh interviews, were triumphs of curiosity and persistence in unearthing lost material about forgotten subjects.
His first important film, “Men of Bronze” (1977), was about the 369th Infantry Regiment, an all-black combat unit that the Army shipped overseas during World War I but, because of segregationist policies, fought under the flag of France. Serving with great distinction, the unit spent more time in the front-line trenches than any other American unit. Collectively, it was awarded the Croix de Guerre and came to be known as the Harlem Hellfighters and also the Black Rattlers.
The 369th began as the 15th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment, and decades later, after Mr. Miles had himself joined a National Guard unit in Harlem, he stumbled on a dusty storage room containing flags, helmets photographs and other relics from the 369th.
He subsequently found well-preserved film footage of the regiment at the National Archives, and he tracked down living members of the unit using a technique he often employed to generate information about the past: He walked the streets of Harlem, stopping where groups of elderly residents gathered to talk and started asking questions.
The film, which was shown on public television, depicted the black soldiers as fiercely patriotic and courageous while offering an oddly good-natured — and moving — critique of American racism.
Mr. Miles’s best-known work was “I Remember Harlem,” a four-hour historical portrait of the neighborhood that had its premiere on public television over four consecutive nights in 1981.
“I was walking around Harlem, where I grew up, and noticed how many of the old theaters and familiar buildings were missing,” Mr. Miles said in an interview in The New York Times, talking about his inspiration for the film. “I went back to my old elementary school, and on the next corner there was another man standing and looking at the building, too.”
The man, he realized, was an old classmate.
“He said to me, ‘I remember Harlem,’ and I thought: I remember Harlem, you remember Harlem, a lot of people remember Harlem.”
Born in Harlem on April 18, 1931, Mr. Miles grew up on West 126th Street, behind the Apollo Theater, where, as a teenager, he occasionally ran the film projector. He graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School and for a while attended City College.
As a young man, he worked downtown as a shipping clerk for a distributor of educational films and then at Killiam Shows, a company that restored silent films; there, Mr. Miles learned mechanical skills like repairing film and clipping segments for use in commercials. During this time he met Richard Adams, who also worked at Killiam, and who became a cameraman and film editor for several of Mr. Miles’s films, including “Men of Bronze.”
“Bill had collaborators of all kinds,” Mr. Adams wrote in an e-mail on Thursday, “but only he had the vision and the persistence, and a genius for spotting archival images.”
One of Mr. Miles’s films, “Liberators” (1992), about black army units that helped to free Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II, was partly inspired by a letter he spotted in The Times from Benjamin Bender, a Jewish survivor of Buchenwald. “The recollections are still vivid — ” Mr. Bender wrote of the day of liberation, April 11, 1945, “black soldiers of the Third Army, tall and strong, crying like babies, carrying the emaciated bodies of the liberated prisoners.”
The film, produced and directed by Mr. Miles and Nina Rosenblum, was nominated for an Academy Award, but its accuracy was subsequently questioned. Its overall point of the film — that blacks who fought racism at home to be allowed to serve their country, then witnessed the discriminatory horrors of the Holocaust — was not in dispute, but critics said that the film went awry in giving credit to a particular unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, part of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, for the liberation of Dachau and Buchenwald. (The 761st was present at the liberation of the Gunskirchen camp in Austria.) Public television stations ceased showing the film.
In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Rosenblum said they had discovered, too late, that one of the interviewees in the film had lied about being a liberator, but she defended the film as essentially accurate, saying that Army records were inconclusive and that Mr. Miles was a scrupulous documentarian who was shattered by the controversy. “It was the only film he ever made that had its veracity questioned,” Ms. Rosenblum said. “And I can tell you he tried everything to make the research complete. He was putting black history on the map in a way it hadn’t been, and this was such a terrible blow. We still feel like the film, except for one guy, is valid. If the Army records are so good, tell me: Who liberated Benjamin Bender at Buchenwald?”
Mr. Miles married the former Gloria Darlington in 1952, after having known her since they were classmates in elementary school. His other survivors include two daughters, Brenda Moore and Deborah Jones, and three grandchildren.
Last fall, the veteran Democratic Congressman Charles B. Rangel, whose district includes Harlem, entered a testimonial to Mr. Miles in the Congressional Record. Speaking on the House floor, Mr. Rangel gave a summary of Mr. Miles’s work, which includes films about black athletes, black astronauts, black cowboys, and the writer James Baldwin.
“Join me in a very special congressional salute to Harlem’s historian and black filmmaker, William ‘Bill’ Miles,” Mr. Rangel said, “a titan of a man who has documented the history and contributions of African-Americans and the black American experience with film, camera and a lens.””
Junior Meggett, 80, in the former slave cabin on Edisto Island, S.C., where his aunt and uncle lived in the 1940s. Mr. Meggett lived in a different but identical cabin.| Stephen Morton for The New York Times
Haunting Relic of History, Slave Cabin Gets a Museum Home in Washington
EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. — The floors creaked. The walls swayed in a strong breeze. Rot and termites had destroyed parts of the rickety structure built before the Civil War.
But when curators from the Smithsonian’s new African-American history museum in Washington visited this marshy island last year, they found exactly what they were looking for: an antebellum slave cabin that captured the stark life of plantation workers before emancipation.
Edisto Island is home to two of the nation’s oldest slave cabins, dating to the 1850s — vestiges of what was once an entire village for field workers at the Point of Pines Plantation. Black families lived in the wood-sided, two-room houses, without electricity or heating, until the 1980s.
Now, the better-preserved of the two cabins is getting a new home in the nation’s capital. The Smithsonian Institution is dismantling it, plank by plank, and moving it to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open on the National Mall in late 2015.
It will be among the featured artifacts, beside Harriet Tubman’s shawl, Nat Turner’s Bible, a Tuskegee Airmen fighter plane and Emmett Till’s coffin. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s director, called it “a true jewel in the crown of our collection.”
“Slavery is the last great unmentionable in public discourse,” he said. “But this cabin gives an opportunity to come face to face with the reality of slavery. It humanizes slavery.”
For years, local historians had struggled to save the pinewood building. After the last residents moved out, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Three years ago, the plantation’s owners donated the cabin, but not the land, to the Edisto Historical Preservation Society.
The society raised $40,000 to clear away vines and install diagonal beams to stabilize the tilting 16-foot-by-20-foot structure. But it could not find enough money to safely move the cabin to a new location.
“Honestly, we were about to give up,” said Gretchen Smith, the society’s director.
The Smithsonian called just in time. The museum, with a budget of $500 million, had scoured the country for the right cabin. Its curator, Nancy Bercaw, said Edisto Island’s was perfect: it needed a new home, and because blacks had lived in it long after slavery, the museum can display it in an exhibit encompassing the postwar period called “Slavery and Freedom.”
“The sea island history is so rich and multigenerational,” Ms. Bercaw said. “This history has been tucked away. It hasn’t always been safe to pull out these stories.”
Last Monday, work crews from a preservation company called Museum Resources Inc. stripped off parts and labeled them. Modern additions like the tin roof and metal nails will be replaced. The rest will be transported to a restoration facility in Virginia before being rebuilt inside the museum.
The crews made several discoveries while taking apart the cabin. Newspapers had been stuffed inside the walls for insulation. Windows and door frames were painted with a faint blue paint, which historians say slaves from the Caribbean believed kept demons away.
The exact age of the cabin is unknown, although historians believe that it was probably built off-site and assembled at the plantation. Toni Carpenter, the founder of Lowcountry Africana, a group that documents black history in the South, said an 1851 map of the plantation showed the cabin at its present site. And, she said, an 1854 plantation inventory showed that 75 people were enslaved there.
One of the last residents who remembers life inside is Junior Meggett, 80, a retired groundskeeper, who grew up in the 1940s in an identical cabin and whose aunt and uncle owned the one given to the Smithsonian.
Winter nights were so cold that everyone huddled around the stone fireplace on cots, he said. Summers were so mosquito-infested that the fire burned constantly as insect repellent.
“It’s a tough place to live,” he said. “But we didn’t have any choice. It was just where you lived.”
The new museum is the Smithsonian’s first since the National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004. It will span black history and culture from the African slave trade through the first black presidency.
Ms. Smith, from the historical society, said it was bittersweet to see the cabin leave the island after more than 160 years. She hopes to raise enough money to restore the second cabin and keep it on Edisto. But while South Carolina is losing this artifact, she said, “now millions of others can see it.”
Tania León, (born on May 14, 1943 in Havana, Cuba) is highly regarded as a composer and conductor and recognized for her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been profiled on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, and independent films. She has lectured at Harvard University and at the prestigious Mosse Lecture series at the University of Humboldt in Berlin and was the Andrew Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Scholar at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. León was also Visiting Professor at Yale University, Guest Composer/Conductor at the Hamburg Musikschule, Germany and the Beijing Central Conservatory, China. Her honors include the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Fromm, Guggenheim Fellowships, and Symphony Space’s Access to the Arts Award. León has also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin, and SUNY Purchase College, and has served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A Professor at Brooklyn College since 1985, she was named Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York in 2006. In 2010 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. One of her most notable career highlights has been a Latin Grammy nomination for her composition Inura in 2010. [x]
La Premiere bande-annonce pour le film d’animation Aya De Yopougon.
The movie sprung from the animated series written by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie, and edited by Gallimard in the collection of Bayou of Joann Sfar. The adapted (animated) movie is set to be released in July 17th 2013, in France, by Autochenille Production.
The series takes place in Yopougon, the most vibrant neighborhood of the city of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. It relates the tales and daily life of Aya, her friends, family, and foes through exiting images and emotion-filled dialogues that are very familiar to the people of Cote d’Ivoire, more likely to the residents of Yopougon. A lot can happen in the city of Yopougon, or Yop-City, including drama, romance, tragedy, humor, and etc. And from the looks of it, the series has made a fantastic work in representing just about that.