Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 87/"Professor" W.L. Harris

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Overview[edit | edit source]

“Professor” W.L. Harris was born in 1907 in Alabama. In Alabama, Harris was a practicing clairvoyant. Harris was interviewed by Annie A. Rose on January 20th, 1939 as a part of the Federal Writers Project.

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Biography[edit | edit source]

Family[edit | edit source]

“Professor” W.L. Harris was born on June 7th, 1907 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the son of two Swedish immigrants, and he grew up in Alabama in a household with four other siblings. Harris’ father was a revenue officer; Harris’ great-grandmother, Betsy, was a mind reader and also a Swedish immigrant. Harris was married and had one son with whom, for his adult life, he lived a short distance outside the Macon, Alabama city limits.

Early Life and Career[edit | edit source]

At the age of ten, on a random day in March, young Harris prophesized the arrival of his grandmother to his family home in Alabama. His family thought these claims to be outrageous, for his grandmother lived in Sweden and Harris had never met her. However, at the exact time he predicted, Harris’ grandmother was on their front porch. When he was eleven years old, Harris warned his father of a possible attack he would be the victim of on his way to work. Once again, Harris was correct, and his father had to fight off a thug on his way to work. “Professor” Harris had a second sight and was a clairvoyant. As he grew older, Harris began to study astrology, palmistry and the Bible. He believed he was granted his abilities from God and the Bible; he believed he was a prophet sent to warn people of disasters and that no harm could come to him. Harris felt that the United States needed his help to govern the people. He expressed his desire to reach out to President Roosevelt to warn him of danger coming to himself or America. Harris believed his spirit was his great-grandmother’s and that he was to finish her work as a mind reader. All around Alabama, people sought out Harris; many people trusted in his abilities. Harris also expressed interest in writing books about his knowledge, but he admitted he believed he lacked the education to do so. Harris believed that if people did read his books then happiness and prosperity would be brought to the world.

Opposition Faced[edit | edit source]

Despite his exceptional abilities, Harris still received backlash from the community. A local preacher and some citizens of Macon tried to force Harris to leave the town for what they believed to be heresy, and the town would not grant him a license to carry out his practice. Therefore, Harris conducted his business in the secrecy on the outskirts of town.


Social Context[edit | edit source]

The History of Clairvoyance[edit | edit source]

Clairvoyance is defined as the power to see what is hidden from ordinary physical sight; clairvoyance is a second sight.[1] There is often controversy surrounding clairvoyancy and its legitimacy, and there is an ongoing debate about whether clairvoyancy is anti-Christian. In the Old Testament, Daniel has many visions of the future kingdoms of the world and of Israel. In the New Testament, Joseph, Peter and Paul each experience visions of their futures.[2] However, despite this presence of clairvoyance in the Bible, there is lots of Christian opposition to clairvoyance. Some Christians claim clairvoyancy to be a fraud and a “cheap and damning counterfeit.”[3] Some believe that if one wants to seek knowledge beyond their five senses, one must turn to God rather than the fake magic of clairvoyance. However, many people highly revere clairvoyants for their gifts. Research has also been done into the genetics of clairvoyancy. In a recent study published by Explore[4], research was found that supports the idea that psychic abilities can be inherited from one generation to another. Researchers found evidence of a difference in a noncoding genetic sequence between subjects with psychic abilities and those without thus making psychic abilities, such as clairvoyance, inheritable. Clairvoyance continues to be researched to determine its credibility.

Jim Crow Alabama[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression, in Alabama and other southern states, legal segregation prevented Black Americans from being protected from discrimination and hate crimes. In 1901, Alabama’s newly drafted state Constitution established white supremacy as the basic foundation of government; the new state Constitution disenfranchised Black American voters, established a segregated school system, prevented interracial marriages and defined what categorized someone as Black.[5] In the 1926 Alabama Supreme Court case Wyatt vs. Adair, the Alabama Supreme Court “approved the principle of segregation and its message of disgust towards Blacks.”[5] Segregation in Alabama was fully supported by the state’s government. In 1927, the Alabama State Government redefined what categorized someone as Black; their new definition defined anyone with any Black ancestor as Black. In 1928, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that one’s race could be established in court by observing one’s “appearance, associations and acquaintances.”[5] These two rulings allowed the Alabama government to easily establish dominance over those they wished to control. Alabama’s 1901 Constitution is the state’s current acting Constitution, however, there have been a myriad of amendments to the Constitution since.


  1. Leadbeater, Charles Webster (1903). Clairvoyance. Theosophical Publishing Society.
  2. "Unique Soul Healing :: The History of Clairvoyance". uniquesoulhealing.co.uk. Retrieved 2021-04-07.
  3. "Does the Bible take a position on clairvoyance and parapsychology?". Grace to You. Retrieved 2021-04-07.
  4. Wahbeh, Helané; Radin, Dean; Yount, Garret; Woodley of Menie, Michael A.; Sarraf, Matthew A.; Karpuj, Marcela V. (2021-03-01). "Genetics of psychic ability - A pilot case-control exome sequencing study". EXPLORE. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2021.02.014. ISSN 1550-8307. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550830721000501. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Segregation (Jim Crow)". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 2021-04-07.