Book Review: Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement


by Thomas W. Cutrer and T. Michael Parrish

College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017. Pp. xviii, 142+. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $24.95. ISBN: 1623496020

The “Improbable” Hero of Pearl Harbor

In this, the first scholarly biography of “Dorie” Miller (1919-1943), professors Cutrer (Emeritus Arizona State) and Parrish (Baylor), give us an interesting account of the young hero’s life, concentrating, of course, on a very detailed reconstruction of his actions on Dec. 7, 1941, aboard the battleship West Virginia (BB 48). But they do more than just that.

As they tell Miller’s story, the authors also weave into their account a look at African American life in Depression Era rural Texas. And they take a hard look at the U.S. Navy’s poor record with regard to black Americans in the service. Although African Americans had once been rather numerous among the enlisted personnel, even rising to petty officer, from the Wilson Administration onward black men had been restricted to duty as messmen, as Miller himself was. Miller’s actions – and he was hardly the only African American to respond bravely during the attack – found the Navy initially reluctant to recognize his courage, but gradually restrictions black men in the service were eased, and there was considerable progress by the end of the war, by which time Miller himself had been killed in action when the USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) was sunk in November of 1943.

The authors also take an interesting look at how Miller helped further the cause of civil rights in America, and briefly touch on the continuing effort to have his Navy Cross raised to a Medal of Honor. In addition, they look at the many myths that have accrued around Miller’s actions that day, including a look at his portrayal in the wildly inaccurate 2001 motion picture Pearl Harbor.

Doris Miller, a volume in the “Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series”, is a good read for anyone interested in the events at Pearl Harbor, African-Americans in military service, or the Civil Rights movement.


Notes: Doris Miller is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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