It is with deep sadness that we report the passing of Dr. Elijah Wally Miles. He was 86 years-old. His family has asked us to share this abbreviated obituary with NCOBPS.
Dr. Miles, who was known by many as “Wally Miles,” “E.W. Miles,” E. Walter Miles,” and “E. Wally Miles,” was part of a small group of the first African Americans to obtain a doctorate degree in political science/government. This group included Ralph Bunche, Jewel Prestage, and Lucius Barker. Dr. Jewel Prestage was one of the early mentors and teachers of Dr. Miles. She considered him to be an excellent student and an “outstanding” professor. Scholars, including Dr. Maurice Woodard, who have studied the earliest “trailblazing” African-American political scientists, include Dr. Miles on a list of notable African-American political scientists who followed Dr. Ralph Bunche.
Dr. Miles was born on May 4, 1934, in Hearne, Texas. He attended Prairie View A&M University, where he became a leader of the varsity debate team and assumed leadership roles in national honor societies. After graduation, he was appointed as a commissioned officer in the United States Army. He served overseas in the Korea for about two years and then returned to the United States to resume his academic career. He briefly taught at Prairie View A&M University before enrolling at Indiana University to attend graduate school, where he earned both master’s and doctorate degrees in government.
After earning his graduate degrees, Dr. Miles held teaching and research positions at Indiana University, Prairie View A&M University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1966, he accepted a faculty position with the Department of Political Science at San Diego State University, where he worked for more than thirty years. At SDSU, he served on the Executive Council of the Study Commission on Black Affairs and as chair of the political science department.
Dr. Miles worked tirelessly at eradicating barriers that prevented African Americans from entering the field of political science. For decades, he was affiliated with the American Political Science Association’s Committee on the Status of Blacks in the Profession. Less than ten years after this committee was founded, he served as its chairperson.
During his tenure as a professor, Dr. Miles co-authored Vital Issues of the Constitution and was a contributing author of Great Cases of the Supreme Court. He served on the editorial boards of the Western Political Science Quarterly, National Political Science Review, American Review of Politics, and Journal of Politics. He also served on various APSA committees and was a member of its Executive Council. APSA recognized Dr. Miles’s “excellence in scholarship and service to the profession” by awarding him a distinguished scholar award.
Dr. Miles was committed to scholar activism. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was involved in a campaign to desegregate public facilities in Bloomington, Indiana. He also helped organize a boycott against businesses that practiced racial discrimination in Hempstead, Texas, and he fought to improve housing conditions in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.