James Harris (North Carolina politician)
Early life and Civil War activity
Harris was born into slavery in Granville County, North Carolina but became free about 1848. He left the state and attended Oberlin College in Ohio. After the outbreak of the American Civil War, Harris was commissioned as a recruiting officer to organize black troops in Indiana, including the 28th Regiment United States Colored Troops.
After the end of the war, Harris returned to North Carolina and became a political leader, helping to found the North Carolina Republican Party, serving as a Raleigh alderman, president of the State Equal Rights League, vice president of the Union League, and chairman of the 1866 Freedmen's Convention. He was elected as a delegate to the state’s 1868 constitutional convention, as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives (1868–1870, and 1883) and of the North Carolina Senate (1872–1874). Meanwhile, Harris developed "Oberlin," a Raleigh-area community where former slaves were able to own their first homes, and helped found the Negro branch of the North Carolina Institute for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, which was the first school for blind African-Americans in the nation.
He was a member of the United States Electoral College in 1872, voting for Ulysses S. Grant. Harris was also a delegate to several Republican National Conventions, including in 1884, when he was a supporter of Chester A. Arthur's unsuccessful bid for renomination. In 1888, he was elected as a delegate for James G. Blaine.
Harris lost two races for the United States House of Representatives, the first by a slim margin in 1870 to Sion H. Rogers. In the second race (1878), his place on the ballot opposing another African-American Republican, James E. O'Hara, contributed to the victory of white Democrat William H. Kitchin.
After moving to Warren County for a time, Harris returned to Raleigh in 1880 and started a newspaper, the North Carolina Republican. Harris died in 1891 in Washington, D.C. and was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Raleigh.