Jarthur Harris, born in September 1937, has worked to advance race relations and improve the quality of life for everyone in Columbia County for much of his life. “I’ve been concerned about the community all my life,” said Harris whom became an entrepreneur at an early age. He was the first black executive director of the Harlem Housing Authority and an Assistant Director of the Harlem Community Development Project. He started his first business in 1954 at the age of 17. He has opened several of his businesses in the city of Harlem, Georgia. His businesses included a pool hall that sold hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausage dogs and a cafeteria. He has operated summer camps and programs to help young people find work.
Mr. Harris also was the president of the Columbia County chapter of the National Association for the advancement Colored People and has owned several businesses in Harlem including his own automotive shop and charter bus company. In 1994, he decided to purchase 3 greyhound buses and formed Harris Enterprises. That endeavor by Mr. Harris inspired entrepreneurship in his own family and spawned the creation of the Horizon Motor Coach Company, which is now owned by Alvin Harris, Mr. Harris’ son.
Mr. Harris has also been inspirational as an activist. He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta in the 1960s and attended his funeral in 1968. When Coretta Scott King passed away, he felt honored and privileged to be able to carry 170 people to Atlanta. It was that devotion to his community that earned Harris two honors for community service. At an annual meeting, the Harlem Branch of the Key Women of America presented Harris with an award honoring his life’s service to the community and for providing transportation for anyone who wished to attend the funeral of Coretta Scott King. He also donated the proceeds of $2,000 to the King Center. In fact, besides his three children and grandchildren, Mr. Harris says that he is most proud to have received the opportunity to take as many people as he could to Mrs. King’s funeral to keep the message of the civil rights era alive. His main goal was to educate the people on history so they wouldn’t forget. Following that honor, the city leaders of Harlem, GA, awarded Harris a proclamation in appreciation for his service to all of Harlem. Jean Dove, the City Manager at that time says “He has been instrumental in getting the foundation laid for helping the African American community.”
Besides his three children, four grand-children and five great grand-children, Harris said, he is most proud to have received the opportunity to inspire others to participate in the civil rights movement and to educate them in Dr. King’s message. Mr. Harris whom is a lifelong resident of Harlem, says he has seen and been part of many of the landmark moments in the national and area civil rights movements. He feels that it’s not a racial thing, it’s a people thing. Through faith in God, Harris said he learned long ago that, “No matter what he has me deal with, I am no more than anybody else.”
Harris spearheaded a group of African American men that successfully petitioned Columbia County schools and pushed for mixed-gender classes after a racial integration that mandated same-sex schooling in the late 1960s. Later, Harris successfully petitioned the county to change its practice of segregating black and white jurors during meal times and forcing black jurors to enter the courthouse through a separate entrance. Despite often having to take his battles to court and facing discrimination himself, Harris said, he strived to live up to the ideas espoused by Dr. King. Mr. Harris says it best “We are all going to agree or disagree, but we can do it without being disagreeable.”