Elizabeth Harris was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1867, to parents who had been slaves. She married Jacob Walker Harris in 1883 at the age of 15 and was the mother of nine children. She lived until 1942, surviving her husband and two of her children. She was a deeply religious woman who spent much of her life in service to her church. She clearly valued education, both for herself and her children. She had several of her poems and vignettes published in various newspapers during her lifetime. She included these in the manuscript of her life story, which she started writing at the age of 55 in 1923.
Elizabeth Harris's handwritten memoir provides glimpses of her early childhood, of race relations, of Harris' own ambivalence about her place as an African-American in society, and of the importance of religion and education in her life. She includes the story of her courtship and marriage as well as descriptions of the adult lives of several of her children. Harris divided her memoir into two sections: her childhood years and her life during and after courtship and marriage. The manuscript also includes photos and newsclippings that the author pasted to the pages of the document. The appendix contains the majority of these clippings which consist of her poetry, several folk tales, essays and news stories about Harris' family.
The manuscript was written in a bound notebook starting on the front side of the pages until the last page, then continuing on the backs of the pages (from back to front). In all, it is 85 pages long. It was written basically in the chronological order of her life, although sometimes earlier stories are included in later sections, as they were recalled to her. The order in which she included her stories and memories has been preserved in this digitized version.
This manuscript was donated to the Special Collections Library in 1984 by Mayme Perry, one of Elizabeth Harris' descendants.
You can find more information about the Special Collections Library and other holdings related to African-American women through various pages at this site. More information about other digitized collections can be found in our African-American Women On-line Archives. For more information about other African American materials, browse the Duke on-line catalog or contact our reference desk directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The digitized version of Elizabeth Johnson Harris' Life Story was developed as a project of The Digital Scriptorium of the Duke University Special Collections Library in collaboration with the Duke University Libraries Women's Studies Archivist.
All of Harris' manuscript has been transcribed and scanned in the digitized version. The original manuscript was divided into two sections, however, the digital version of this manuscript has been separated into several chapters for easier viewing and direct access to particular topics. Although we have added these additional chapter breaks, we have preserved the original order in which it was written.
These papers were scanned with a Sharp JX-330 color flatbed scanner with Adobe Photoshop on a PowerMacintosh 9500/120. The "double size" images are 24-bit 150dpi JPEGs and the "full size" ones are 72dpi GIFs.