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Guide to the Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers, 1851-1980 and undated, bulk 1926-1965

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Abstract

African American civic leader during the period following the Brown decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Movement. Harris was the first African American city councilman in Durham, N.C., and the first black man to sit on the Durham County Board of Education. The Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers span the years from 1851 to 1980, with the bulk dating from 1926 to 1965. The collection consists mainly of clippings, correspondence, legal papers, photographs, printed materials, journals and diaries, scrapbooks, oversize maps, and reports relating to Harris' work in political and educational affairs in Durham, North Carolina in the 1950s and early 1960s as a member of the City Council and the School Board, with emphasis on school desegregation, civil rights, and race relations in Durham. Also represented is Harris' business career in banking, insurance, and real estate, his role as an official of the Bankers' Fire Insurance Company, and his civic activities, including leadership roles in the NAACP, Lincoln Hospital, and North Carolina Mutual Insurance, and Mechanics and Farmers Bank, all serving African Americans in Durham. Some biographical materials, family papers, and correspondence also relate to his wife, Plassie Williams Harris. Part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.

Descriptive Summary

Collection Number
RL.00515
Title
Rencher Nicholas Harris papers
Date
1851-1980 and undated, bulk 1926-1965
Creator
Harris, Rencher Nicholas, 1900-1965
Extent
16.5 Linear Feet, 2,112 Items
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Material in English

Collection Overview

The Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers span the years from 1851 to 1980, with the bulk dating from 1926 to 1965. The collection consists mainly of clippings, correspondence, legal papers, photographs, printed materials, journals and diaries, scrapbooks, and reports relating to Harris' work in political and educational affairs in Durham, North Carolina in the 1950s and early 1960s as a member of the City Council and the School Board, with emphasis on school desegregation, civil rights, and race relations in Durham. Also represented is Harris' business career in banking, insurance, and real estate, his role as an official of the Bankers' Fire Insurance Company, and his civic activities, including leadership roles in the NAACP, Lincoln Hospital, and North Carolina Mutual Insurance, all in Durham. Some biographical materials and correspondence also relate to his wife, Plassie Williams Harris. In detailing the business and government official activities of Durham's first African American city councilman, the first black man to sit on the Durham County Board of Education, and an active, if rather moderate, African American civic leader during the period following the Brown decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Movement, this collection is especially significant for the documentation it offers on the problems of city government and race relations in the mid-twentieth-century South. Includes a large group of oversize maps of Durham, N.C. Part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in twelve series, of which Volumes and Scrapbooks and Durham City Council are the largest. The much smaller groupings are: Clippings; Correspondence; Genealogy and Biography; Insurance and Banking; Legal Papers; Miscellany; North Carolina College; Photographs; Printed Materials; and Speeches. There is also a group of oversize materials that were separated from the main collection and rehoused.

Restrictions on Access & Use

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warning Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. There may be a 48-hour delay in obtaining these materials.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. Digitized documents are made available by Duke University Libraries for the purpose of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, such as commercial uses, researchers must contact the Rubenstein Library to request permission.

Digitized materials from this collection are made available for use in research, teaching and private study. The digital reproductions have been made available through an evaluation of public domain status, permissions from the rights' holders, and authorization under the law including fair use as codified in 17 U.S.C. § 107. Although these materials are publicly accessible for these limited purposes, they may not all be in the public domain. Users are responsible for determining if permission for re-use is necessary and for obtaining such permission. Individuals who have concerns about online access to specific content should contact the Rubenstein Library.

Contents of the Collection

1. Clippings Series, 1951-1966, 1980 and undated

1 folder

Contains newspapers, newsletter clippings, some oversize, pertaining to activities of and topics of concern for Rencher Nicholas Harris and his wife, Plassie Williams Harris, and associated items such as correspondence and election materials, particularly referring to voting as related to race.

Clippings, 1951-1966 and undated

[Some clippings removed to Oversize Materials.]

Box 1
Folder 1

2. Correspondence Series, 1920-1965 and undated

3 boxes

Comprised of letters, telegrams, and other types of correspondence, in the form of personal exchanges between Harris and his wife and family; letters dealing with his campaign and election to the Durham city Council in 1953; and correspondence touching on his business activities. Of particular note are letters written to Harris from Carla Myerson (later Eugster) during her stay in England in 1951, which are filled with observations and impressions about England and its contrasts to America, especially on race relations. Starting in the mid-1950s, letters Harris received from Durham citizens give evidence of the effects of the Brown decision; some letters, for example, call his attention to segregation in airports and ballparks. The issue of public school desegregation comes to the fore beginning about 1959. Dispersed among the correspondence are clippings, financial or business documents, photographs, and publications, often attached to the correspondence with which they are associated. The series is arranged in chronological order.

Letters, 1920-1939
Box 1
Folder 2
Letters, 1940-1949
Box 1
Folder 3
Letters, 1950-1951
Box 1
Folder 4
Letters, 1952

Includes a “Survey of the Negro Vote in the 1952 Presidential Election” compiled and distributed by the NAACP.

Box 1
Folder 5
Letters, 1953 Jan.- May
Box 1
Folder 6
Letters, 1953 Jun.- Dec.

Includes reproduction of painting of R. N. Harris for calendar art.

Box 1
Folder 7
Letters, 1954
Box 1
Folder 8
Letters, 1955
Box 2
Folder 1
Letters, 1956
Box 2
Folder 2
Letters, 1957
Box 2
Folder 3
Letters, 1958
Box 2
Folder 4
Letters, 1959
Box 2
Folder 5
Letters, 1960
Box 2
Folder 6
Letters, 1961
Box 3
Folder 1
Letters, 1962
Box 3
Folder 2
Letters, 1963
Box 3
Folder 3
Letters, 1964
Box 3
Folder 4
Letters, 1965 and undated
Box 3
Folder 5

3. Durham City Council Series, 1946-1964 and undated

10 boxes

Comprised of materials concerning Harris' term on the Durham City Council and his service on various committees. The material takes the form of clippings, correspondence, personal notes, and committee documents, including financial papers, maps, meeting agendas and minutes, newsletters and pamphlets, policy statements, proposals, and reports. Materials in three boxes concern Harris' service on the Durham Board of Education, ranging from audit reports of cafeteria systems and book funds to denials to requests for school integration. In addition, there are several subseries that touch on the activities of the Committee on Human Relations, Lincoln Hospital, and the Durham NAACP (for which Harris served as president). The NAACP subseries include an undated "Manual for Workers in NAACP Membership Campaigns," and correspondence and clippings pertaining to the NAACP and its projects. The subseries are arranged in alphabetical order. Unless otherwise noted, each heading represents one folder of material. Some material has been removed to an oversize folder.

Airport, 1946, 1953-1956 and undated
Box 4
Folder 1
Assessments, 1954-1955, 1960

Includes an existing land use map of the Hayti-Elizabeth Street Renewal Area from the Durham Redevelopment Commission, dated 1960 Jun.

Box 4
Folder 2
Board of Education, 1957-1958
Box 4
Folder 3
Board of Education, 1959 and undated
Box 4
Folder 4
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report, 1960 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 1
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report - Activity funds, 1960 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 2
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report - Assorted funds, 1960 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 3
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report - Cafeteria system, 1960 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 4
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report - Activity funds, 1961 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 5
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report - Assorted funds, 1961 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 6
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report - Cafeteria system, 1961 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 7
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Audit Report - General fund, 1961 Jun. 30
Box 5
Folder 8
Board of Education: Durham City Schools Fallout shelter survey, 1962
Box 5
Folder 9
Board of Education: "An Analysis and Comparison of the Academic Adjustment and Problems of Probation Students and Honors Students at North Carolina College," 1952 Oct.
Box 5
Folder 10
Board of Education: "Financial Support of Secondary Education for Negroes in Georgia," 1952
Box 5
Folder 11
Board of Education, 1960

Includes summons in lawsuit against the Durham City Board of Education for maintaining segregated school systems.

Box 6
Folder 1
Board of Education, 1961-1962
Box 6
Folder 2
Board of Education, undated
Box 6
Folder 3
Industrial Education Center, 1958-1963 and undated
Box 6
Folder 4
Bonds, 1954-1960 and undated
Box 6
Folder 5
Budget Committee, 1952-1954
Box 7
Folder 1
Budget Committee 1954 and undated
Box 7
Folder 2
Budget Committee 1955
Box 7
Folder 3
Budget Committee 1956-1957
Box 7
Folder 4
City Extension, 1953-1957
Box 8
Folder 1
Committee of 100 and DIDCO, 1954-1956 and undated
Box 8
Folder 2
Committee on Human Relations, 1956-1961 and undated
Box 8
Folder 3
Crain and Denbo Matter, 1956
Box 8
Folder 4
Fire Department, 1951-1956 and undated
Box 8
Folder 5
Government Center, 1947, 1953, 1956-1957 and undated

Includes oversize maps of Durham and plans for Durham City and County lands.

[removed to Oversize Materials]

Box 8
Folder 6
Health Department, 1954
Box 8
Folder 7
Hospitalization Plans for City Employees, 1956
Box 8
Folder 8
Housing, 1954, 1955
Box 8
Folder 9
Joint Committee on Use of City-County Land, 1956-1957 and undated

Includes preliminary plan for city-county lands, 1956 Dec. 6.

[removed to Oversize Materials]

Box 8
Folder 10
Lincoln Hospital, 1952-1964 and undated
Box 9
Folder 1
Maps, 1953-1963 and undated

Includes various maps for Durham planning

[removed to Oversize Materials]

Box 9
Folder 2
NAACP (Durham Chapter), 1952-1955 and undated
Box 9
Folder 3
Various material relating to Durham and organizations therein, 1951, 1957, 1961 and undated
Box 9
Folder 4
Parking Meter Matters, 1953-1955 and undated
Box 10
Folder 1
Political Matters, 1944-1961 and undated
Box 10
Folder 2
Recreation Committee, 1953-1956 and undated

[Various maps removed to Oversize Materials.]

Box 10
Folder 3
Redevelopment Commission of Durham, 1961-1964 and undated

Contains material regarding the “Hayti-Elizabeth Street” Redevelopment Project, including Preliminary Certificates of Title as well as Offers of Sale of Land [Map No. 39 of the Durham County Township Tax Maps removed to Oversize Materials.]

Box 11
Folder 1
Safety Patrol, 1953, 1955, and undated
Box 11
Folder 2
St. Titus Episcopal Church, 1950-1952, 1960-1964 and undated
Box 11
Folder 3
Street Committee, 1952-1956

[Widening Lawson Street, June 28, 1954, Proposed Island Cutback, and Duke Power Company: Bus Routes maps removed to Oversize Materials.]

Box 11
Folder 4
Taxi Cabs and Buses, 1952-1956 and undated

[1954 City of Greensboro map removed to Oversize Materials.]

Box 12
Folder 1
Telephone Franchise and Rates, 1917, 1946-1955 and undated
Box 12
Folder 2
Traffic Committee, 1953-1956 and undated
Box 12
Folder 3
Water and Sewer Department, 1952-1957 and undated
Box 13
Folder 1
Youth Board and Juvenile Court, 1955-1956 and undated
Box 13
Folder 2
Zoning Ordinance, 1957 and undated
Box 13
Folder 3

4. Genealogy and Biography Series, 1943-1966 and undated

1 folder

Includes a chronology for the life of Plassie Williams Harris, wife of Rencher Nicholas Harris, written in her own hand, and various lists of names and addresses kept by the Harrises.

Biographical chronology of Plassie Williams Harris and various addresses, names, 1943, 1948, 1966 and undated
Box 14
Folder 1

5. Insurance and Banking Series, 1952-1965 and undated

4 folders

Comprised of materials pertaining to insurance or banking institutions with which Harris dealt. Materials from Durham's North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company occupy one folder and include correspondence, financial statements, and informational and advertising materials. The folder on "Assorted Companies" contains similar materials for a number of banking and insurance institutions, including American Equitable Assurance, Bankers' Fire and Casualty Insurance Company, Loyal Automobile Insurance Company, Mutual Savings and Loan Association, Southeastern Fidelity Fire Insurance Company, and Southern Fidelity Mutual Insurance Company. There are also ledgers, correspondence, financial documents, and reports pertaining to the Mechanics and Farmers Bank.

Assorted companies, 1952-1965
Box 14
Folder 2
North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1952-1953, 1959-1964
Box 14
Folder 3
Mechanics and Farmers Bank, 1946, 1951, 1960-1965
Box 14
Folder 4
Mechanics and Farmers Bank deposit and check books, 1954-1961 and undated
Box 14
Folder 5

6. Legal Papers Series, 1951-1963 and undated

2 folders

Includes documents related to the financial and legal matters between Harris, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Thomas A. Allen, as well as deeds and contracts, and some documents regarding school controversies.

Thomas A. Allen records, 1954-1959 and undated
Box 15
Folder 1
Legal papers, 1951-1963 and undated
Box 15
Folder 2

7. Miscellaneous Papers Series, 1952-1957 and undated

1 folder

Comprised of a single folder containing a variety of materials including a list of names and addresses of Durham clergy, a 1952-1953 membership card for the General Alumni Association of Virginia Union University, a medal presented "by the citizens of Portsmouth, Va. for loyal service in the World War," and assorted other memorabilia and ephemera belonging to Harris.

Miscellaneous items, 1952-1957 and undated
Box 15
Folder 3

8. North Carolina College Series, 1952-1964 and undated

1 folder

Comprised of materials documenting Harris' affiliations and service with the North Carolina College of Durham (later North Carolina Central University). The majority of these materials consists of correspondence and reports pertaining to college properties and properties adjacent to the college under review for acquisition by the college; included among these materials are associated maps and property and architectural photographs. Also included are materials pertaining to the 1955 Real Estate and Builders Conference that was held at and partially sponsored by the North Carolina College Commerce Department and at which Harris gave the key address.

North Carolina College materials, 1952-1964 and undated
Box 16

9. Photographs Series, 1954, 1956, 1960 and undated

1 folder

Contains 14 photographs of Harris and/or his family or business associates. Most of the individuals in the photographs are identified, but few have dates associated with them. Plassie Williams Harris and J. S. Stewart are present in a number of the photographs.

Photographs, 1954, 1956, 1960 and undated
Box 16

10. Printed Materials Series, 1924, 1947, 1953-1965 and undated

3 folders

Comprised of advertising and informational media, manuals, newsletters, pamphlets, postcards, programs, and other printed materials on a variety of topics. One folder contains approximately 30 publications mostly relating to race relations and school desegregation.

Printed materials, 1924, 1947, 1953-1965 and undated
Box 17

11. Speeches Series, 1953-1963 and undated

2 folders

Contains clippings of source material, event programs, written notes, and scripts or note cards of speeches given by Harris. Also included are typescripts for two 1963 speeches given by the Dean of Duke Chapel James T. Cleland.

Speeches, 1953-1963 and undated
Box 18

12. Volumes and Scrapbooks Series, 1851-1964 and undated, bulk 1939-1964

15 boxes

Comprised of bound volumes of personal and business documents relating to Harris. The series is divided into three subseries arranged alphabetically: Appraisals, Memoranda Books, and Scrapbooks and Volumes. The Appraisals group contains bound groupings of real estate appraisals done by Harris mainly in the Durham area from 1939 to 1964. The appraisal reports include many photographs of commercial and residential properties. The Memoranda subseries includes small volumes from 1945-1963, most of which contain little information. The 1955 volume, however, contains the text of several of Harris' speeches and a few newspaper clippings concerning his views on desegregation. The Scrapbooks and Albums subseries consists of a letterbook covering the years 1957-1962, dealing mainly with a testimonial dinner for Harris in 1957 and with his resignation from the School Board in 1962; a scrapbook containing clippings about Durham civic leaders and some snapshots from 1958; a folder of letters and expressions of sympathy to Mrs. Harris on the occasion of Harris' death in 1965; and the Harris family album that has in it family letters and documents as far back as 1851, quantities of clippings pertaining to Harris' political career, and many photographs.

Appraisals
(10 boxes)
Box 19-28
Memoranda
(2 boxes)
Box 29-30
Scrapbooks and Albums
(3 boxes)
Box 31-33

13. Oversize Materials, 1947-1980 and undated

5 folders

Chiefly large maps of Durham city and county, used for municipal planning purposes, but also includes some clippings.

Clippings Series materials
Oversize-folder 1
Durham Maps
Oversize-folder 2
Durham Maps
Oversize-folder 3
Durham Maps
Oversize-folder 4
Durham Maps
Oversize-folder 5

Historical Note

Chronology List

Date Event(s)
1900 October 7 Born in Abingdon, Virginia
1917 Graduated from Corey Memorial Institute in Portsmouth, Virginia
1917-1918 Attended Virginia Union University of Richmond
1919-1920 Attended Northwestern University School of Commerce
1921 First employed by Banker's Fire Insurance Company
1922 Married Plassie Williams of Durham, North Carolina
1935 Appointed as Vice-Secretary of Banker's Fire Insurance Company
1949 Ran for Durham City Council and was defeated
1953 Elected to Durham City Council
1957 Declined to run for a second term to City Council
1958 Accepted appointment to fill an unexpired term on the Durham School Board
1959 Reappointment for four-year term on School Board
1962 Resigned from School Board due to ill health
1965 January 4 Died in Durham, N.C.

Subject Headings

Related Material

The Harward and Howard collections focus on Durham N.C. race relations, school segregation and integration, and Durham city politicas and government from the 1960s-1980s. The Lincoln Hospital and N.C. Mutual collections are included here due to R.N. Harris' involvement with both entities, as well as the material located within the Harris collection relating to the two former collections.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Provenance

The Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 1966.

Sponsor

Portions of this collection have been digitized as part of "Content, Context, and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina." The project was made possible by funding from the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.

Processing Information

Processed by Aaron Thornburg, May 2009

Encoded by Aaron Thornburg, Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, May 2009

Accession 66-50 is described in this finding aid.

Updated by Jessica Carew and Paula Jeannet Mangiafico in preparation for digitization, October 2011