102-year old WWII Veteran still provides public service

Brooke Shanty

The Houston Sun

Born June 18, 1920, Charlie Mills is a WWII veteran who remains active in his community at 102 years of age. Mills was born and raised in Galveston, Texas. He lived with his mother, father and three older siblings in a neighborhood where he says “We lived on the south side of the street, the Whites lived on the north side of the street.” Despite growing up during segregation, he boasts of the peaceful nature of his community saying, “There were no racial problems… All the families were very nice and cordial to one another. That’s why really we didn’t know, or at least we didn’t think anything about race until we were in school. That’s when we found out that we were different… We definitely didn’t find out there was a difference in the color until it was time to move schools.

Up until that time we had no idea that we were different, we prayed together, we slept overnight together at one another’s homes.” Even after recognizing the racial differences between them “It didn’t cause any problems with each other, we just noticed the difference that we went to different schools. We realized then that we were segregated.” When asked about his time in school Mills mentions no racial problems, only that he played both track and varsity football at Central Highschool in Galveston. When asked about his life after graduation Mills says “After receiving my education in Galveston, Texas School District, I had several jobs working ashore until I joined the United States MERCY Marines working part time, until the war came along and I worked full time. From the day the war started, 1941 to 1946.” After serving in World War II Mills worked in the contracting department of the Maritime Union and represented his union alongside activist groups.

“I represented the union that I worked for with the Martin Luther King Jr. Association March. I was in two of the marches: the Jackson march, Mississippi and the Norfolk, Virginia march. There wasn’t too much publicity on this one, but the Jackson, Mississippi one was a big one. It happened right after some murders.” Mills mentions a more recent instance of community involvement in 2022 where he was selected as Grand Marshal of the African American History parade for Juneteenth. Although the heat on the day of the parade was much more than expected, Mills emphasized the importance of the event saying “The significance of Juneteenth was passed along to the people. We got to reach all the people who were along the march area.” When asked to look back over his life and pick out his greatest achievement Mills chose “Becoming one of the first Black officials in the Knights of the Maritime Union in the contract department. I stayed in that department from 1946 to 1986 when I retired. I’m one of the oldest officials of the Knights of the Maritime Union, which was the first union in the Maritime industry which was fully integrated.”

When asked how he can continue to function so soundly at 102 years of age and what he attributes his long life to Mills proudly said, “You know, I tell a lot of people this, and a lot of people, they look at me and say ‘ohh… ’. But I’ll say this: God and I had a thing going. God set the rules and I follow them, of course not totally, I broke them occasionally. But I followed the rules and I attempted to stay within the guidlines of our relationship.”

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