Stanley Harris, founder and leader of the Interracial Service of the Boy Scouts of America, was born in Trade, Tennessee on October 31, 1882, the son of William and Rachel Netherly Harris. Shortly after his birth, the Harris family moved to Avery County, where Harris attended local schools. At age 18 he entered Tennessee Wesleyan College, in Athens, where he graduated in 1903. He taught school briefly at Cove Creek Academy, before taking a position with the YMCA.
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While living in Frankfort, Kentucky, Harris, an avid outdoorsman, began leading hikes in the mountains for young boys. After reading of the Boy Scout movement then taking place in Great Britain, Harris applied for and received a charter from Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, in 1908 for one of the first Boy Scout troops formed in the United States. Two years later he served as one of the charter members in the official founding of the Boy Scouts of America. Seven years later he joined the Scouts national headquarters in New York City.
As a scout leader in Kentucky, Harris made significant gains in introducing African American boys to scouting. Partially as a response to this, he was made the head of the Interracial Services division of the Boy Scouts, and given the task of promoting interracial scouting across the nation. He supported the founding first all-black Boy Scout troop in 1916 and, during the 1920s, helped organize the first all-Native American troop. For his efforts, he became the first Caucasian given an honorary doctorate by Tuskegee Institute. In 1926 he organized the Scouts’s Interracial Service, an initiative to boost racial diversity.
Harris retired from the Scouts in 1947, and moved to Boone. He remained active in community events, serving as treasurer of the outdoor drama Horn in the West, and as secretary of the Boone Chamber of Commerce for fifteen years. Harris continued to work with local Scout efforts until 1975 when he moved to a nursing care facility in Greensboro. He died there on August 13, 1976, and subsequently was buried near his former home in Boone.
William R. Murray, History of the Boy Scouts of America (1937)
Chuck Wills, Boy Scouts of America: A Centennial History (2009)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 55—sketch by Dorothy Long
Charlotte Observer, July 26, 1975
Greensboro Daily News, August 31, 1975
Winston-Salem Journal, August 14, 1976
Stanley A. Harris, in a 1975 photo, reads a telegram from President Ford. Image courtesy of Winston Salem Journal.