Robert C. Giles, journalist and educator, was born in Silsbee, Texas, on August 23, 1928, to Wilbert and Carrie Giles. The Giles family had relocated to Texas from their native state, Louisiana, during the Great Migration. The late 1920s ushered in the decline of sawmill work and the start of the Great Depression. For these two reasons, the family trekked across the Sabine River into Texas. A frugal Wilbert Giles saved enough funds to purchase a farmhouse in Silsbee in Hardin County, where he and his family lived. There in Silsbee, Wilbert found more reliable work at a nearby sawmill, offsetting his wages with farming. The family survived the Great Depression and the pressures of living in the segregated South. Deeply religious, the Catholic family prided themselves on their spiritual roots that went back to Louisiana. Some of the children apparently remained in Louisiana; others built lives in Silsbee. Then others moved to Texas cities and made respectable livings as barbers and dressmakers. One son served in World War II. The youngest of the six Giles children, Robert, finished high school in 1945 or 1946. A good writer, he knew he wanted to attend college, even though his parents could not afford to send him.
Resilient and hardworking, young Robert found a way to enter college. Scholarship money and hard work helped him pay his way through undergraduate school. He entered St. Thomas College (today the University of St. Thomas) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1952. He then entered graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin and earned his master’s degree in journalism in 1954. Some sources suggest Robert Giles became the first African American to desegregate the university’s journalism program (now the College of Communication) and was one of the first to earn a journalism degree. Like other Blacks in the 1950s and 1960s, Giles opened important doors of opportunity to other African Americans. Robert Giles then entered the United States Army after finishing his master’s degree; he ultimately became a staff sergeant. After his honorable discharge, he remained in the armed serves and served his country in the Air Force Reserves.
Working as a journalist at a number of newspapers, he found his niche when he secured permanent work at the Texas Catholic Herald, published by the Diocese of Galveston-Houston (today the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston), in 1966. Giles especially loved human-interest stories that captured the attention of the Catholic community and secular press. His series on the homeless in Houston attracted national attention and earned him awards. His ability to humanize his subjects, including those most despised, propelled his reputation as a first-rate journalist. Giles later told journalists in a 2001 interview that his ability to connect with the indigent and homeless had to do with his own background. Growing up poor in Louisiana and Texas gave him an edge over others, he thought. Giles knew his sensitivity and empathy would also motivate his subjects to “trust” him. He always said he felt God’s presence in many of his subjects, regardless of their circumstances. Giles, who worked for the paper for thirty-five years, also authored a number of books, including Changing Times: The Story of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston in Commemoration of Its Founding (1972).
Giles loved writing and teaching. For more than twenty years he taught part-time in the Department of Journalism and Telecommunications (today School of Communications) on the campus of Texas Southern University. Giles also advised the student newspaper. On the campus, the associate professor of journalism reached out to young people from all walks of life, including working-class backgrounds. In the late 1980s he often lectured to students about the dangers of embracing those cultural constructs that denigrated the Black community. Giles also reminded students of their responsibilities to future generations. Dedication, love for humanity, kindness, and honesty, according to Giles, would always break down barriers and divisions.
Giles’s wife Delores was also an educator. They did not have children. Robert C. Giles died in Houston on October 5, 2010, at the age of eighty-two. His funeral Mass was held at Holy Family Catholic Church in Missouri City, Texas. He was buried with military honors in Houston National Cemetery.