For much of his life, Jarthur Harris says he has worked to advance race relations and improve the quality of life for everyone in Columbia County.
"I've been concerned about the community all my life," said Harris, who was the first black executive director of the Harlem Housing Authority and an assistant director of the Harlem Community Development Project. He has operated summer camps and programs to help young people find work.
Harris also is the president of the Columbia County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and has owned several businesses in Harlem, including his current business, Horizon Motor Coach.
Recently, it was that devotion to his community that earned Harris two honors for community service.
At their annual meeting March 18, the Harlem Branch of the Key Women of America presented Harris with an award honoring his life's service to the community and for providing transportation for anyone who wished to attend the funeral of Coretta Scott King.
Harris, who marched with the Rev, Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta in the 1960s and attended his funeral in 1968, said it was important for him to take as many people as he could to Mrs. King's funeral to keep the message of the civil rights era alive.
"I wanted to educate the people to history so they wouldn't forget," Harris said.
In all, Harris ferried nearly 170 people to Atlanta, with proceeds and donations of $2,000 given to the King Center.
Besides his three children, Harris said, he is most proud to have received the opportunity to inspire others to participate in the civil rights movement and to educate them in Dr. King's message.
"I feel that, it's not a racial thing, it's a people thing," Harris said.
On April 10, city leaders awarded Harris a proclamation in appreciation for his service to all of Harlem.
"He has been instrumental in getting the foundation laid for helping the African-American community" in Harlem, City Manager Jean Dove said.
At 68, and a lifelong resident of Harlem, Harris said he has seen and been part of many of the landmark moments in the national and area civil rights movements.
Harris became an entrepreneur, opening several Harlem businesses, including a pool hall, an automotive shop and a cafeteria.
Through faith in God, Harris said he learned long ago that, "No matter what he has me deal with, I am no more than anybody else."
Harris joined many other black church deacons who demanded desegregation of Columbia County schools and pushed for mixed-gender classes after a racial integration that mandated same-sex schooling in the late 1960s.
Later, Harris successfully forced the county to change its practice of segregating black and white jurors during meal times and forcing black jurors to enter the courthouse through a separate entrance.
Despite often having to take his battles to court and facing discrimination himself, Harris said, he strived to live up to the ideals espoused by Dr. King.
"We are all going to agree or disagree, but we can do it without being disagreeable," Harris said.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.