Born in Seattle, Washington, he became the first black captain of the school's football team as an end at Seattle's Garfield High School. He then played for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes football team, and in 1937, he became the team's Most Valuable Player and the first black player to captain a Big Ten team. He was named an All-Big Ten End three years in a row.
As the National Football League wasn't integrated when he graduated, Harris went to medical school and became a dermatologist. He also served as head coach of the North Carolina A&T football team in 1940.
He was inducted into the Hawkeyes' Hall of Fame in 2002, and had a Seattle park named after him the same year.