So as many of you know, there will be a Harris Family Reunion Cruise this summer and for the reunion the elders of the family share some of their life’s moments and history.
Well my dad, Ernest Harris Jr., has submitted an entry that I found moving as well as riveting. I am so proud of the life you have lived Dad and the words you have chosen to share with us. Thank you for sharing your amazing story and I look forward to sharing the rest of your life with you!!! There are no words that can describe our bond and express just how much your love and support has shaped my life. I love you!!
Here is the story of Ernest Harris Jr.
Ernest A. Harris, Jr. (1938) & Florence E. Henderson (McNichols) (1942)
Ernest Albert Harris, Sr. and Gussie Lee Stevens gave birth to their first child, Ernest A. Harris Jr. on January 11, 1938, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For the 2017 Harris Family Reunion I, Ernest(Ernie) will try to recall some of my personal history. I remember living with my mother Gussie Lee and my father Ernest A. Harris Sr., my brother Robert Augusta and my sister Ellen Doreen and my brother Theodore Clemmon(Teddy) at 5321 Broad Street, at the home of my father’s sister, Mary Roberts and her husband, Grady Roberts. They had four children, Barbara, Evelyn, Bertha Mae and Grady Jr.
I recall many early childhood experiences at the Broad street address. I attended the elementary school which was right across the street from where we lived and after I completed first grade, the school was closed and demolished. My brother Robert(Bobby) and I along with my cousins had to attend Liberty elementary school several blocks away from our home on the other side of Penn Ave.
I remember when I was attending 3rd or 4th grade our family moved to East Liberty, a new neighborhood. This was a huge and new experience that I had to adjust to. When we lived on Broad street. I was familiar with my surroundings. I knew where my cousins (the Robinson’s) and my grandmother, Julia Harris lived in Garfield a few blocks away. I could walk over to visit them and my grandmother would cook me anything I asked he to, especially her mouthwatering biscuits.
Let me explain the connection between the Harris, Robinson, and Roberts family. My father’s oldest sister Mary left Cuckoo, Virginia to obtain employment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She married Grady Roberts and began to establish her family. She sent for my father, my grandmother and her younger sister, Julia. My grandmother lived with Aunt Julia and helped her raise the Robinson Family. Our family visited the Robinsons’ on a weekly basis and my father would send part of his check from the J&L Steel Mill to his mother.
When we moved to East Liberty, 611Paulson Ave., I missed my grandmother and my cousins. The adjustment to the new neighborhood was difficult for me but a friendly kid, named Stanley Drummond, assisted Bobby and I in making new friends and we felt welcomed. I was shocked when I heard people speaking a different language, Italian. The neighborhood was a mixture of Black and Italian families. The neighborhood school was Larimer Elementary and we adjusted well. The family continued to grow, Doris was getting bigger and we acquired another brother, Perkins Lee and a few years later, the youngest member, Ruth Lynnette, was added.
Mom was great raising our family, she was good at communicating with people in the community. She was a great cook and many of our friends would come over just to have some of her good cooking, and she never turned them down. Mom and Dad were both good disciplinarians but Mom would discipline more and when you got a whipping, it was a good one. Mom would say this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. That strap would hurt!!! But I would rather have a whipping over a lecture. The lecture hurt more!!! Mom and Dad made it clear if we got arrested the police would whip us in the police station with rubber hoses and there would be nothing they could do about it. They lectured to us all the time—-Don’t get arrested—if we got in trouble at school and were punished, we were punished again when we returned home. We went to church on a regular basis. Mom sang and played the piano and Dad was a Deacon in the church for a long time.
Our community always had good athletic teams, and as kids we played football, baseball track and basketball. Larimer Elementary school was Kindergarten through 6th grade. Westinghouse high school was grade 7th through 12th grade. I went out for football in the ninth grade and became a starter 10th 11th and 12th grades. I received college scholarship offers but did not see the value of a college education at the time. I had no role models, no minority teachers. I was in the eleventh grade before seeing my first black teacher/counselor, Mrs. Guise.
After graduation, I decided to explore the world of work. I acquired a job working at Robert Hall Clothing store and later at Greyhound Bus Terminal downtown Pittsburgh. I played Semi-Pro football for Pittsburgh Homewood Oriols and the following year with Pittsburgh Cubs from the Hill District. The Tennessee State Coach, Howard Gentry, visited our home and spoke with me and my Mom. He offered me a football scholarship and it took care of my tuition, residency on campus, books and college expenses. After football, work study took the place of my football scholarship and it covered the same expenses. I worked at the Engineering Building and Keene Hall a residential center, on a weekly basis, two hours per day. My sophomore year I pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. After completing pledging I needed to pay pledging expenses of $120 dollars. I had no income to pay this expense. Dad’s finances could not afford it. My sister Ellen heard my phone call to Mom and she asked Mom to let her speak to me. I explained my situation and she told me not to worry as she has earned money selling Avon products. The money was sent and I became A Kappa Man and this was much better than having a football scholarship. I graduated with a degree in Sociology in 1962.
November 1962, I was drafted into the Army. My basic training was at Fort Gordon, Georgia, from there I was sent to the South Pacific Theater, Bangkok, Thailand, for 18 months. While in Bangkok, I received some very sad news, that my Mom had passed. I returned home with a heavy heart. That same year, my grandmother also passed. In November, 1964, I was discharged from the army, and returned home to Pittsburgh, after a few weeks at home I decided to move to Brooklyn, New York. I was hired as a counselor by the Bethlehem Lutheran Children’s Home on Staten Island, New York. In September 1965, I was employed as a Social Studies Teacher at Lincoln High School in Jersey City, commuting from Brooklyn, N.Y. Fall of 1966, I was hired as a Hospital Care Investigator, providing Medicare and Medicaid to eligible patients. My job location was at Kings County Hospital and I met a former Tennessee State University friend, Jessie M. Fields. She was employed as a dietician at the hospital. We dated for a while and decided to get married. We went to Newark, New Jersey and were married by the Justice of Peace in February, 1966. The marriage ended a year later, the divorce was serviced by a New York attorney in Juarez Mexico, February 1967.
Shortly thereafter, I met Delores Siler and we had a great relationship. On June 25, 1968, a beautiful daughter, Denise was born. We were very happy as a couple. During that time, New York Public School System publicized a need for High School Counselors, and I applied to Tennessee State Counseling Program and was accepted. I was eligible to have it paid by the G.I. Veterans Administration Program. Thus, I made the decision to go for it, planning to return to New York upon completion of my program.
After receiving my degree in one year, I was offered a job at the University of Iowa. After participating in the job interview on campus, I decided to visit my brother Teddy and his wife Marty at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. My brother, Perkins was also visiting them at the time. Teddy and Marty introduced me to many people on campus. Marty, my sister-in-law introduced me to Florence and after a few mishaps we began to pursue a closer relationship. Perkie and I rented an apartment together in East Lansing and I applied to Michigan State Education Specialist Degree Program and was accepted.
During the ensuing months, I began to bond with Florence and her three daughters, Marian, Cheryl and Donna. Florence was working on her Master’s Degree at MSU and lived in Spartan Village. We traveled to Saginaw, Michigan and met her mother and father, Mary Henderson (Bettie)and Eugene Henderson, along with her sister, Charlotte and brother Eugene Henderson, Jr. With the girl’s approval Florence and I were married on June 17, 1972 in Saginaw, Michigan. Florence was the highlight of the wedding as she fainted in the middle of the ceremony. Fortunately, she recovered and the wedding continued. That same year, Florence graduated in the Higher Administration Program and was offered employment at MSU, in the Office of Supportive Services and I completed my Specialist degree and was hired as a Counselor at Sexton High School, Lansing Michigan.
On June 20,1973, Malaika Amani was born and that completed the family. Florence’s father said that made a good card hand (4 Queens). I was full of remorse for not returning to New York and I tried to explain my reason for not doing so. Eventually, I believe I was forgiven and I feel blessed that we still have love and respect for each other. Delores did a wonderful job in raising Denise and I am very proud of my daughter and all that she has accomplished.
During the first years of our marriage, we took many trips to Saginaw, Michigan and I went fishing with Mr. Henderson(Dad) and his fishing buddies to lakes in Ludington, Manistee, Bay City and other places. We also traveled up north to a cottage in Idlewild, Michigan that was owned by Florence’s grandfather, Charlie Perkins. And Step grandmother, Sebel Perkins. Many fun trips were to Idlewild. The men would go fishing and bring the catch home for the women to clean and fry and afterwards, Mr. Henderson would say the drinking light was lit and we would play cards, (Acey Duecy and Whist) and have a grand ole time. The kids always had something to do, swimming, skating, walking around the lake, and playing in the woods. The cottage became too small for all of us and we purchased a small trailer and moved it next to the cottage in Idlewild. Years later, the family had the cottage removed and replaced it with a modular home.
Mr. Henderson also owned a motor home and we were fortunate to be able to travel with him on many trips around the country. My father, Ernest Harris, also accompanied us on some of the trips to Florida, the World Fair and Mackinaw Island.
Marian graduated from Michigan State University, and is a Highly regarded educator in Lansing, Michigan She is married to Cleve Stepter, who is employed with the Frito Lay company. They have two children, Cortney and Michael. Cheryl is the CEO of her company, True Compliance LLC, in Atlanta Georgia and has two children, Anthony and Dominique. Donna is a Care Giver in Atlanta, Georgia and has four children, Daymon and Monique, two are deceased, Kyla and Destiny. Denise graduated from Howard University and Toro University and is a lawyer in New York. She has two boys, Shamariah and Shemaiah. Malaika graduated from the University of Michigan. She is married to Colin Loftus who graduated from Michigan State University with honors and they have two boys, Ace and Kingston. They currently, reside in Cary, North Carolina and are business entrepreneurs who love to travel and explore. I am very proud of my daughters’ and all that they have accomplished.
Florence and I retired in 2001, as we wanted to do some other things while we were still in good health. We purchased a motor home (I wonder where we got the idea from?), traveled around the country, sold our home in East Lansing and moved to Idlewild. We are involved in the community and enjoy the socializing and being a part of the Mid-Michigan Idlewilders. We love Michigan in the spring, summer and fall. But, as I would always say that if the snow caught us it would be our fault. So far, we have been lucky, since 2001, we have been able to travel to Orlando, Florida in the winter and have a great time working at Disney World.
Overall, I would have to say life has been good, we have had our heartaches and our blessings, the good times and the bad. But, through it all the family has remained close, and this is truly a blessing. We have been fortunate to have 12 beautiful grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.