An Alabama native, Herman L. Harris was born 1 July 1927 in Burkeville, Lowndes County. In 1944 he graduated from Loveless High School in Montgomery, Alabama and enrolled at Alabama State Teachers College, now Alabama State University, in the fall of 1944. His college attendance was interrupted by service in the United States Army following World War II. In 1945-1946 He served with the United States Occupational Force in Kobe, Japan, in 1946.
When Herman L. Harris returned from his military service, he continued his post-secondary education at Alabama State, receiving the Bachelor of Science Degree in Secondary Education in 1949. He began a thirty-one year career in education teaching in Butler County, Alabama, his last three years there as principal of Chapman Elementary School from 1955 to 1958. Harris was elected to three non-consecutive terms as president of the Butler County Teachers’ Association during his nine years in the County, declining to serve the third term after accepting employment in his home school district, Montgomery County, in 1958. While teaching in the Butler County school system, with a Bachelors Degree in Secondary Education, Harris took classes at Alabama State College, earning certification in Elementary Education and a Master of Education degree with endorsement in Educational Administration, in 1957.
On Monday night, December 5, 1955, Harris left his class at Alabama State to hurry over to Holt Street Baptist Church where the mass meeting was being held in which the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, was launched. He could only join the throngs of people filling the streets and sidewalks all around the church, as the church was already packed to overflowing. Mass meetings were held every Monday night after that at various churches around town for the duration of the Boycott. In addition to his regular weekends, Harris would come back to Montgomery twice each mid-week -- for the Monday night mass meeting and again on Wednesday or Thursday evening, to transport people in his car until about midnight to keep them off the buses, go home and get a few hours sleep and head back to Butler County the next morning.
Herman L. Harris’ thirty-one year career in education included, in addition to his nine years in Butler County: ten years in Montgomery County, the last seven of which were as principal of George Washington Carver Elementary School; one year as Assistant Executive Secretary of the Alabama State Teachers’ Association; and eleven years with the Alabama Education Association in the positions of Director of Field Operations and Organizational Specialist.
Upon becoming employed in the Montgomery County school system in 1958, Harris immediately became active in the Montgomery County Teachers’ Association (MCTA). After three years in the Montgomery County system, in 1961 Harris became principal of Carver Elementary School and at the same, time, continued representing Black teachers, winning a two-year term --1961-63 --as president of MCTA. One year later he became president of the Alabama Association of Elementary School Principals. In 1968 Harris resigned as principal of Carver Elementary School to take the position of Assistant Executive Secretary of the Alabama State Teachers’ Association. In 1969, with the merger of ASTA and AEA, he began his eleven-year employment as Director of Field Operations and Organizational Specialist for the Alabama Education Association, retiring in 1980.
Harris was also involved in political and community based activities. In 1975, while employed with AEA, he was elected to the Montgomery City Council, serving as President Pro Tem of the council until 1979. He served as Acting President of the Council for a two-month period in 1977 during a shake-up in city government caused by a police scandal regarding the Bernard Whitehurst case. In 1976 Harris was elected as a delegate for Jimmy Carter to the Democratic National Convention in New York City, where Mr. Carter was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President of the United Sates.
In 1988, Harris was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Education, where he served for sixteen years, retiring in 2004. During his sixteen years on the Board of Education, Harris served as Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Board. During this same period, from 1989 to 1991, Harris was employed as Coordinator of Recruitment for the Alabama Consortium for Minority Teacher Education, a Ford Foundation program at Tuskegee University.
In 1996 Harris was selected as executive director of the newly incorporated Holt Street Baptist Church Historical Society. The church formed the society to oversee the conversion of the Old Holt Baptist Church building, where the Mass Meeting that launched the 1955/56 Montgomery Bus Boycott occurred, into a museum. In 2003 Harris was appointed by the U. S. Secretary of the Interior to serve on the Citizens Advisory Council for the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail. Herman L. Harris has been recognized for his long career in education and public service.