Black sailor from Texas honored on 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack
A public ceremony in Waco on Tuesday, marking 80 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, honored the heroics of a Black sailor from the Central Texas city.
At the event, bronze sculpted images depicting the life and actions of Doris “Dorie” Miller were unveiled. Miller was a Navy cook when Japan attacked the United States on Dec. 7, 1941. While under siege, he manned a machine gun to fire at Japanese planes and carried the dying captain of the USS West Virginia to safety.
When Miller joined the Navy in 1939, he started out as a mess attendant, one of the few classifications a Black person could hold at the time. The responsibilities of that job included cooking and shining officers’ shoes.
Due to racial segregation, Black sailors were also not allowed to serve in combat roles and did not receive the same training as white sailors. So when Miller fired the antiaircraft gun during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the 22-year-old had not been trained. He also helped rescue injured sailors that day.
Doreen Ravenscroft is the president of Cultural Arts of Waco, which spearheaded the Doris Miller Memorial on the Brazos River, where the ceremony was held.
“If you manage to get to Waco, you will see the statue of this young man—it’s actually a nine foot statue. So, it’s one and half times his actual height—but you will also understand the importance of recognizing someone who went beyond the call of duty,” Ravenscroft said, during a webinar presentation hosted by the Texas Historical Commission on Monday.
Miller was awarded the Navy cross In 1942, one of the highest naval awards. He was the first African American to receive such an honor. But the U.S. Navy was initially resistant to giving Miller the award due to his race, until it was pressured by the NAACP and Black newspapers.
“When he was recommended for the Navy cross, the United States Navy fought against that,” he said. “And, in a 2017 book by Thomas Cutrer and Michael Parrish called “Doris Miller, [Pearl Harbor,] and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement,’ they argue, in my opinion successfully, that in fact, he really started the civil rights movement.”
According to the book Hagee mentioned, Miller’s actions later helped desegregate the Navy and allowed Black sailors to be eligible for more jobs, other than mess attendant.
Last year, the Navy announced that a supercarrier would be named for Miller, the first ever named for an African American. Most are named after U.S. presidents.