north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Born around 1830 as a slave in Granville County, James Harris became free in 1848 by virtue of a certificate from the Granville County Clerk’s office, one endorsed by Governor Charles Manly in 1850. After receiving his freedom, Harris was apprenticed to a carpenter and later opened his own business in Raleigh. Harris left North Carolina prior to the Civil War and attended school at Oberlin College in Ohio for two years, followed by trips to Canada and Africa. In 1863, he received a commission to organize the 28th Regiment of United States Colored Troops in Indiana.

     After the Civil War, Harris moved back to his native state as a teacher affiliated with the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society. He became involved in Reconstruction politics soon after and was one of the charter members of the state’s Republican Party after serving as a delegate to the state’s Freedmen’s Convention in 1865. A staunch advocate for the rights of African Americans, Harris sought to provide a voice for equality while maintaining a moderate tone. His philosophy was that blacks and whites had to work together to promote the interests of each race. A gifted speaker, Harris received numerous appointments, including service as a delegate to the state’s 1868 constitutional convention. He was elected a state legislator in the house, 1868-1870, and 1883 and in the senate, 1872-1874. In addition to engaging in political activity, Harris served the Raleigh community as a city alderman and as an advocate for the construction of the Colored Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind in the city.
     Harris was recognized on the national political scene as an important figure since he was appointed to serve as vice-president of the National Equal Rights Convention in 1865, president of the National Convention of Colored Men in 1869, and vice-president of the National Black Convention in 1877. He attended the 1868, 1872, and 1876 Republican National Conventions, serving as a presidential elector in 1872. Harris edited the North Carolina Republican in the 1880s and pushed for reforms for the protection of laborers, women, orphans and other disadvantaged groups. Harris died in 1891 in Washington, D.C. and was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Raleigh.

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 53—sketch by Roberta Sue Alexander
Elizabeth Balanoff, “Negro Legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly, July 1868 – February 1872,” North Carolina Historical Review (January 1972): 22-55
James H. Harris Papers, North Carolina State Archives
John H. Haley, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (1987)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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