Longtime civil rights activist and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party organizer Jesse Harris died of natural causes at the age of 75 on January 28, 2015. Harris was a board member of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. We offer here a variety of key sources for learning about the life and achievements of Harris including a news article, video interviews, and a tribute poem.
This foot soldier of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement will forever be remembered as a steadfast community organizer who worked tirelessly for justice and equality, said Hollis Watkins, chairman of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.
“It is our esteemed honor to have been a part of his life, he a part of ours, and his legacy engrained in the civil and human rights we enjoy and continue to fight for today.”
Continue reading this article about Harris by Jerry Mitchell in The Clarion Ledger.
This video clip provides excerpts from interviews with Jesse Harris in 1963 and 1964, courtesy of the Harvey Richards Media Archive.
Jesse Harris got involved in the Civil Rights Movement early in his career. After he heard about the murders of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, and Mack Charles Parker in Poplarville, Mississippi, Harris was catapulted into the movement for social justice.
As he recalls, in school, Harris had to write a paper regarding current events taking place—so, he wrote about Mack Charles Parker. His teacher denied accepting the paper because she said it was too controversial to discuss during this tumultuous time in history.
Continue reading this profile of Harris on Freedom50.org
Jesse Harris — A Frontline Soldier in Mississippi
Tribute poem by Tim Jenkins
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 always memorably housed beneath the bib overalls of the
common man, he reassured whoever spoke at a mass meeting 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 become men
and women, even stronger!
Your SNCC Buddy,
© Tim Jenkins, For All of US
January 29, 2015