Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/Edith Rance Harris

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Biography[edit | edit source]

Edith Rance Harris was a black Jamaican immigrant whose family moved to the United States when she was young. Her father was a successful dentist and owned an office and a fourteen-room house in the suburbs. However, because of their success, Harris and her family began to be terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, causing her family to lose all of their property. Following the death of her mother and father, Harris began teaching in North Carolina where she met her husband, Rudolph. Harris was well educated and opinionated on social and political issues. At the time of the Federal Writers' Project, Harris's future goals were to become a social work and accumulate wealth.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Afro-Caribbean Immigration into the United States during the early 20th Century[edit | edit source]

In the earlier twentieth century black immigrants from the Caribbean dramatically increased, creating a new social class of black people in America. Afro-Caribbean immigration was not only participated in by the working-class, but also by the emergence of the black middle class in these countries. However, despite the shared blackness of these immigrants with African Americans, black immigrants were faced with a sense of double sided invisibility in America. Afro-Caribbean immigrants suffered from invisibility by both their blackness and their foreigner status.[1] They would often feel isolated from both Black Americans and European immigrants because of their intersectionality. However, despite this isolation, Afro-Caribbean immigrants remained active members in America's ethnic constituencies. They were highly skilled and educated compared to European immigrants and African Americans at the time, which allowed them to be distinguished in all areas of American life.[1]

The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s[edit | edit source]

In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan gained much popularity through their facist ideals and terrorism of “liberals”, immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and people of color. During the early 20th century, the KKK held exerted significant influence by effectively "policing" their communities. Their control was largely influenced by a shared common ideal at the time that immigrants and other groups targeted by the KKK, could not achieve genuine "Americanism", a thing of the spirit, a purpose and a point of view, that can only come through instinctive racial understanding[2]. As a result, the KKK had a notorious impact of the twenties and many social groups, experiences of that time.

Educational Racism in North Carolina[edit | edit source]

In the 1950s, racism played a different role in the lives of Black Americans. Jim Crow restrictions passed by the North Carolina state government played a large part in Black Americans, especially within education. As the nation emerge from the Great Depression, the issues of race and equal education became the forefront of debate once again after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, which paved the way for Jim Crow and segregation the South. Not only did Black Americans find it difficult to receive an equal education, Black teachers also suffered from unequal wages and resources. American teachers in North Carolina were paid an average of $20 less per month than white teachers, regardless of education or experience. Black teachers faced much larger classroom sizes and were given highly inadequate resources compared to white teachers[3]. Jim Crows laws allowed for many forms of racial discrimination that eventually led to the Civil Rights Movement.

Childhood[edit | edit source]

Edith Harris had two younger brothers that died when she was young, a sister, and a half-brother that was a product of one of her father’s adultery. Harris shortly recounts her memories of Jamaica in contrast to to the privileges available in America. Harris recalls that at that time Jamaican workers were payed far less and worked harder than many Americans. Harris's family first moved to Milford where her father had a successful dentist office located in a suburb. However, Harris and her family began to get threatened by the Ku Klux Klan. They first requested that Harris's family move out of town. After refusing to cooperate, members of the KKK marched around their house with hoods and torches as a final warning. Once again after not leaving, the KKK set fire to their house and then to her father’s office. Later they also set fire to a new apartment they had moved into, causing her family to lose all of their property. However, the reign of terror wasn’t over. One member of the KKK attempted to murder him and held Harris at knifepoint. Following these events, Harris’s mother decided to send her and her sister away to school for the next three years.

Adulthood[edit | edit source]

After Harris's graduation, word arrived that her grandmother died, which led to her mother and father never receiving U.S. citizenship. Years later her mother also died of cancer and shortly after her father died due to complications in his kidneys. Harris and her siblings decided to dispose of her father's business and separate. Harris began teaching in a small town in North Carolina where she met her husband, Rudolph. Harris struggled financially due to the little pay she received as a teacher and the lack of outside support.

Marriage[edit | edit source]

In August of 1937, Harris married her husband, another teacher at the school she had worked at during her time in North Carolina. She did not love him, however, he was a very good friend of her's at which she liked a lot. When he proposed to her, she decided he was a means to escape the small town of North Carolina in which she lived by providing economic stability and a way of ending the monotony of work. Following their marriage, he sent her to college to pursue her goal of becoming a social worker.

Death[edit | edit source]

It is not know how Harris died or how she continued her life following 1939.

  1. 1.0 1.1 James, Winston. “‘The History of Afro-Caribbean Migration to the United States.’” AAME. Accessed October 1, 2020. http://www.inmotionaame.org/texts/viewer.cfm;jsessionid=f830571911601554773983?id=10_000T.
  2. “The KKK in the 1920s.” Accessed October 1, 2020. http://www1.assumption.edu/ahc/1920s/Eugenics/Klan.html.
  3. Roy, Ethan. “Deep Rooted: A Brief History of Race and Education in North Carolina.” EducationNC, December 19, 2019. https://www.ednc.org/deep-rooted-a-brief-history-of-race-and-education-in-north-carolina/.