Trailblazer Joseph Miles

Louisville Water’s Joseph Miles made history as the first Black person to be union president of Local 1683, representing more than 300 members. He proudly served in this role in 1966 and 1967. Miles was also a member of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council and was an executive board member of the Cincinnati District Council No. 51, AFL-CIO.

Photo from 1973: Miles had a long career at the company, beginning as a laborer in 1961. Later he worked as a Louisville Water truck driver and light equipment operator. In this role, Miles provided the construction crews with meter batteries, materials and supplies, and metal plates used to cover holes and ditches that remained open overnight. Miles also operated the Wachs circular saw, which was used to precision cut large water mains (20-inch to 48-inch). According to the 1967 issue of the company’s newsletter, Facts Unfiltered: “Since the saw is the only one of its kind in the Louisville area, Joe must also be a public relations man as he is frequently deluged by questions from interested bystanders.”

Photo from 1980: In 1968, Miles became the Assistant Superintendent of Grounds Maintenance and a year later, he was named Superintendent of Grounds Maintenance. When a tornado struck the Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant in 1974, Miles started a replanting campaign with trees planted in honor of community members. Also that year he was certified as landscape architect by the State Board of Examination of Landscape Architecture and was voted vice president of the newly formed Kentucky Shade Tree Association for promotion and planting, preservation and enjoyment of shade trees.

Photo from 1988: Miles made his mark on the community as well as on Louisville Water. He was a U.S. Army veteran, having served in World War II. In 1975, he was one of the signees of a published letter promoting the desegregation of schools. In 1979, Miles was appointed Affirmative Action Coordinator at Louisville Water (a role he held for six years), as well as remaining as Superintendent of Grounds Maintenance. He then moved into the role of Assistant to President under Foster Burba from 1985 until his retirement on June 1, 1988, having worked for the company for 27 years. He died four months later on October 14, 1988.

Shirley Whittaker-Burba, wife of former Louisville Water president Foster Burba, reminisced about the relationship between her husband and Miles. Foster, who is 96 years old, said it was Miles who had the idea to have a tree planted in his honor on the Crescent Hill property. 

“Joe and Foster had a special friendship that allowed much getting together in formal and casual circumstances. The enjoyed each other’s company and Foster said Joe was a very kind and considerate man. Joe was always ‘Johnny on the Job’ with good suggestions about how better to do whatever needed attention.”