Guide to the Elizabeth Johnson Harris memoir, 1923

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85-page handwritten memoir supplemented with photographs and clippings documenting the personal and family history of poet and writer Elizabeth Johnson Harris of Augusta, GA, daughter of formerly enslaved parents. It includes her reflections on race relations, the place of African-Americans in society, as well as the importance of religion, education, and music in her life.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Elizabeth Johnson Harris memoir
Harris, Elizabeth Johnson, 1867-1942
.1 Linear Feet, 22 x 35 cm.
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Materials in English

Collection Overview

85-page handwritten manuscript in a bound notebook. It starts on the front side of the pages until the end of the notebook, where it continues from back to front on the backs of the pages. It covers her life in chronological order with the exception of some earlier stories recounted in later sections.

Harris divided the memoir into two sections: her childhood years and her life during and after her courtship and marriage. The manuscript also includes tipped in photographs and newsclippings. The photograph on the inside front cover above the dedication is an image of Johnson's adult daughter, Mattie Louise. The appendix contains the majority of the clippings, which consist of her poetry, several folk tales, and news stories about the Harris family.

The memoir describes Harris' childhood in Augusta, GA, race relations, her ambivalence about her place in society as an African-American, and 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. Her son Charles Jacob Harris (1885-1988), was a classically trained pianist, composer, and teacher whose papers are also held by the Rubenstein Library.

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How to Cite

Elizabeth Johnson Harris Memoir, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Historical Note

Elizabeth Johnson Harris was a writer born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1867, the daughter of formerly enslaved parents. She married Jacob Walker Harris in 1883 at the age of 15 and bore 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 valued education, both for herself and for her children. Her son, Charles Jacob Harris (1885-1998) was a classically trained pianist and composer. Harris' poems, plays and vignettes were published in various outlets during her lifetime. She included these in the manuscript of her life story, which she started writing at the age of 55 in 1923.

Related Material

Charles Jacob Harris papers, 1895-1988, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

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The Elizabeth Johnson Harris Memoir was received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 1984 by Mayme Perry, one of Elizabeth Harris' descendants.

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Processed by Megan Lewis, January 2017