Mr. Jesse Harris Biography
Mr. Jesse Harris got involved in the Civil Rights Movement early in his career. After he heard about the murder of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, and Mack Charles Parker in Poplarville, Mississippi, Harris was catapulted into the movement of social justice. As he recalls, in school, Harris had to write a paper regarding current events taking place — so, he wrote about Charles Parker. His teacher denied accepting the paper because she said it was too controversial to discuss during this tumultuous time in history.
In the early sixties, Harris worked on voter registration campaigns around Mississippi including the Mississippi Delta. In 1961, he received information regarding Freedom Riders and their plan to ride through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, ending in New Orleans, Louisiana, where a civil rights rally was planned. Freedom Riders came to the South to work for desegregation of public facilities serving interstate transportation, as segregation of such facilities and buses had been declared unconstitutional. The federal government had done nothing to enforce the Supreme Court decisions and southern states ignored the rulings.
Mr. Harris explains that his Civil Rights education began when he was imprisoned in Parchman along with people like, James Forman, James Bevel, Stokely Carmichael, Diane Nash, and Leon Diamond; this is when he learned about "the movement of the past." After spending nearly 23 days in Parchman prison, Harris was invited by James Forman, a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), to become part of SNCC as a field secretary. In this new position, Harris was assigned to work in Laurel, Mississippi, with the Jones County Improvement Association to organize a voter registration project and a non-violent workshop with high school students in the area. After seeing the work that Harris had been accomplishing, Robert P. Moses, serving as the Mississippi state director of SNCC, asked Mr. Harris to go to Greenwood to support and reinforce the work they were doing in the Mississippi Delta. After the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and other civil rights organizations left the area, Harris along with other Tougaloo students continued the fight for justice through protests and demonstrations wherever there was a need for civil and human rights.
In 1964, Harris was instrumental in helping train Freedom Summer Volunteers before they came to Mississippi and managed the volunteers in and around McComb. Harris was also an organizer for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In the mid-sixties, he worked for the Child Development Group of Mississippi, a predecessor to Head Start. Later, Harris worked with the Poor People's Corporation and the Federation of Southern Co-Ops, which were trying to improve the economic opportunities for black craftspeople and farmers. In the late sixties and early seventies Jesse Harris was a member of the Nation of Islam. He lived briefly in Chicago and New York. Later, after moving to Florida where he lived for ten years in Ft. Lauderdale and twenty-five in Miami, he worked in various jobs, including a longshoreman, a truck driver, an airplane engine mechanic, and an instructor for a community college golf team.
Retired from the corporate world, Mr. Jesse Harris lived in Jackson, Mississippi, where he was still actively engaged in community organizing. As a member of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Harris continued his fight for Civil and Human Rights.
In Memory of Civil Rights Veteran Jesse Harris, Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement
As remembered by Joyce Ladner
January 28, 2015
Oh no!!! I met Jesse so long a ago that I feel he is my brother.
As remembered by Larry Rubin
January 28, 2015
I am so sorry to hear this. He was a great guy and a true freedom fighter. We spent some time in jail together.
As remembered by Bernice Johnson
January 29, 2015
Oh my Courtland, the roll is really being called, isn't it.
Thank you for being our connecting energy...
As remembered by Tim Jenkins
January 29, 2015
Jesse Harris — A Frontline Soldier in Mississippi
Who can dare to sound a worthy hymn for Jesse?
Who can capture the unspoken eloquence of his life and service?
The only universally known biographical detail about him was that
he was ever
there for every call and every high or low duty needed by his people.
His lanky stature memorably always housed beneath the bib
overalls of the
common man, he reassured whoever spoke that there was at least one in the
audience listening to and believing what was said with his life. His "Amen" was
all that was needed for a speaker to know that the message had been both received
and heard, as well as to be acted on.
He spoke without speeching, and what he said came from his heart
and not just his
tongue. When he sang our songs, it was not from his lips, but from his heart, and
we heard him in ours.
It was through him that the answer came to DuBois's question,
"Will the Souls of
Blackfolk thrive?" It was he who showed the good Doctor the proof and price of
what that answer meant.
It is lovely that he left without being bent by old age as one
final lesson to give to
us that "Strong men keep a coming on .... Strong men, getting stronger," just like
Sterling Brown said they would.
We won't have to pray for Jesse.
It is Jesse, who will have to pray for us to allow us by his example to
and women, even stronger!
Your SNCC Buddy,
© Tim Jenkins
January 29, 2015
As remembered by James
January 29, 2015
Jesse is not gone. He remains in my heart and in my writings as one who saw what was happening around him in Greenwood and McComb and I am sure throughout Mississippi and was always low key and warm and able to reach out to those around him and stand with them in the fight. He quietly went about the movement's business and led by example of modesty and goodness. He will be missed.
As remembered by David "Dave"
January 30, 2015
Jessie Harris — Another Unsung Hero of the Civil Rights Movement
Jessie was one of the first "foot soldiers" that I met when I went to Mississippi in April 1962 to represent CORE and to work with the Mississippi program that was led by SNCC under the leadership of Bob Moses and the guidance of local leaders, such as Amzie Moore, Aaron Henry, C.C. Bryant, Medgar Evers, etc. He was part of the local young Black Freedom soldiers, such as Hollis Watkins, McArthur Cotton, Curtis Hayes, Mattie Bivins, Mrs. Victoria Gray, Dorie and Joyce Ladner, Charles McLauren, etc., who were recruited by SNCC and influenced by the Freedom Riders who had invaded Mississippi beginning May 21, 1961. He was one of the many local unsung heroes who continued the struggle until his death.
His leadership, along with Hollis Watkins, McArthur Cotton, Jimmie Travis and several other Veterans, provided the framework for the development of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.
It was an honor to have had the opportunity to be a friend and to work by his side and under his leadership during the past 52 years. He was and is an inspiration to all and he will truly be missed.
As remembered by Leslie-Burl McLemore
January 30, 2015
JESSE LEE HARRIS WAS A TRUE FREEDOM FIGHTER. HE WAS A MAN OF THE PEOPLE AND A STRONG BELIEVER IN SOCIAL JUSTICE. WHEN YOU LOOK UP FOOT SOLDIER IN THE DICTIONARY, YOU IMMEDIATELY SEE A PICTURE OF JESSE HARRIS! HE WAS A FIVE STAR GENERAL IN THE ARMY OF FOOT SOLDIERS. AN UNSUNG HERO WHO HELPED TO CHANGE MISSISSIPPI AND THE WORLD. INDEED, THIS IS A BETTER PLACE BECAUSE JESSE LEE HARRIS PASSED THIS WAY. LONG LIVE THE MEMORY AND WORK OF JESSE LEE HARRIS! AMEN.
As remembered by Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
February 2, 2015
Jesse the Freedom Rider, the essence of the Jackson Nonviolent Movement, the golf guy, my friend. The Movement binds us into Eternity. Til we meet again, Jesse.
Peace, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
As remembered by Bob Zellner
February 1, 2015
Jesse did so many things the rest of us never heard about. I remember being in prison with him early on, in the spring of 1963. Six folks from CORE and six from SNCC tried to finish the William Moore March from Chattanooga to Jackson, Mississippi. Moore, like Meredith, was on a one-man march and was shot. Moore died and we tried to finish his walk a number of times. Al Lingo, the Klansman Wallace appointed to head the Alabam Storm Troopers, met us at the Alabama line with clubs and cattle prods and we spent weeks in Kilby Prison in Montgomery.
Jesse was a solid and calming presence in the brutal prison and earned all our respect. He was always quiet and courageous and did the right thing. I am sad that he has passed but glad that he passed our way.
As remembered by Dorie Ladner
February 6, 2015
Jesse's death has shaken a part of me. We were very close. He was one of the first people I worked with in Mississippi. We were both from Mississippi and started working with Bob Moses around the same time. He taught me about the brutality of Mississippi when he described how he had been beaten and tortured at the Hinds County Work Farm. He was placed in a torture chamber until he passed out from the heat. Then they would bring him out, revive him, and put him back in.
There was many a time that I and others would be travelling all over Mississippi, with Jesse driving the car. We would face fierce danger, yet somehow he would always drive in such a way that we would arrive safely.
He was a kind and generous person. I saw him in June at the Freedom Summer 50 gathering. We had a wonderful time talking about our days in the struggle. I will continue to lift up his name in my speeches, as I did recently in a talk about Freedom Summer in New York. Jesse, I will continue to lift up your name.
As remembered by Thomas Madison
February 16, 2015
It is with great sadness that I learn of the passing of Brother Jessie Harris. It is because of much of his suffering that we are able to enjoy many of our Constitutional Rights. When I was arrested as a Freedom Rider Jessie learned of my plight and within a few days Jessie was in jail showing his support for the fight for freedom.
Jessie Harris was, and will always be my hero. Rest in peace my brother.