T. H. Harris

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Thomas H Harris
Louisiana State Superintendent of Education
In office
August 1908 – May 14, 1940
Preceded by James B. Aswell
Succeeded by John E. Coxe
Personal details
Born Lee Marcus Harris
(1869-03-26)March 26, 1869
Arizona community
Claiborne Parish
Louisiana, United States
Died February 24, 1942(1942-02-24) (aged 72)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Resting place Roselawn Memorial Park in Baton Rouge
Political party Democratic

(1) Minnie Earle Harris (married 1896-1899, her death)

(2) Mary Elizabeth Blackshear Evans Harris (married 1900)

From first marriage:
Sadie Grace Harris ____
From second marriage:

Three stepsons

Austin Dabney Harris

Rebecca Amaretta Flovilla Milner Harris

(1) Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish
(2) Opelousas, St. Landry Parish
(3) Winnsboro, Franklin Parish

(4) Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Alma mater

Northwestern State University

Louisiana State University
Occupation Educator
Religion Baptist-turned-Methodist

Thomas H Harris, known as T. H. Harris (March 26, 1869 – February 24, 1942), was the dominant figure in Louisiana public education in the first half of the 20th century through his role as the then elected state school superintendent from 1908 to 1940.

Early years and education[edit]

Christened Lee Marcus Harris, he became legally known as Thomas H Harris; as with Harry S Truman, the middle initial stood for nothing. He was born four years after the end of the American Civil War in the Arizona community of Claiborne Parish in north Louisiana, a son of a Baptist minister, the Reverend Austin Dabney Harris, and the former Rebecca Amaretta Flovilla Milner, known as Rettie Harris. He briefly attended the former Arizona Academy conducted by his father. In 1889, at the age of twenty, Harris enrolled for eight months in the former Lisbon Academy in the Lisbon community in Claiborne Parish. From 1891-1892, he attended the former Homer College in Homer, the parish seat of Claiborne Parish. Thereafter, he taught school in Claiborne and Winn Parish, the latter the ancestral home of the Long political dynasty. Thereafter, in the fall of 1893, Harris enrolled at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, then known as "Louisiana Normal."[1][2]

Thereafter, Harris was the assistant principal at Central High School in Lake Charles, the seat of Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana. While teaching in Winnsboro, the seat of Franklin Parish south of Monroe, he married the former Minnie Earle and converted to the Methodist denomination. The couple had one child, Sadie Grace. In 1897, Harris was again on the move, for he was named principal of St. Landry High School in Opelousas in St. Landry Parish. He also studied and taught part-time at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge at that time. Minnie died in 1899. The next year, he wed the former Mary Elizabeth Blackshear Evans, a widow with three small sons. In 1900, he briefly attended the University of Chicago, and in 1901 he studied for a summer session at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1]

In 1903, he was named the principal of the large Baton Rouge High School. He also found time to take law courses at the Louisiana State University Law Center. For a time, he left professional education and sold life insurance. Then, he was appointed state education superintendent in August 1908. Oddly, he did not finally receive his Bachelor of Arts degree from LSU until 1922. He procured the Master of Arts, also from LSU, in 1924. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from LSU in 1935.[1]

State superintendent[edit]

Under Harris' tenure in the state education department in Baton Rouge, the system of combined local and state financial support for public schools was established. More consolidated schools replaced traditional one-room facilities in rural areas.[1] Standards for teacher certification were increased to the minimum level of a bachelor's degree. He hired a New Orleans educator, John R. Conniff, to direct the teacher certification bureau from 1910 to 1926, when Conniff left to take a two-year position as the seventh president of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston.[3] State laws established teacher tenure and a retirement system. A system of state-operated vocational schools was also created. Louisiana state colleges became four-year degree granting institutions with improved physical plants and financial support.[1]

On November 17, 1927, Harris attended the dedication of the former Homer High School and Junior College building in his home parish. Another speaker at the event was Claiborne Parish superintendent John Sparks Patton, like Harris an ally of the Longs.[4]

Harris was allied with Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr. The superintendent said that the state elected Long to the Senate to replace the much respected Joseph E. Ransdell because "they believe that he can be of more use to them there. The people trust Long. I find it mighty easy to get on with Governor Long. I have seen the school appropriations increased by $1.9 million during the past two years. I have seen the appropriations for the state colleges increased by half a million dollars in the same time. I have seen 125,000 men and women who were illiterates learn the rudiments of education."[5]

In 1938, the legislature established the T. H Harris Scholarships to assist students in obtaining a college education. The legislation was sponsored in the Louisiana House of Representatives by Lether Frazar of Lake Charles, an educator and later the lieutenant governor.[1]

After thirty-two years in office, Harris was defeated for renomination in 1940 by the anti-Long John E. Coxe, a former member of Harris' staff who was swept to victory on the intra-party ticket led by gubernatorial candidate Sam Houston Jones, the winner over Governor Earl Kemp Long.[6] Coxe said that he found the department under Harris to be characterized by "politicalizations and unbearable dictatorship ... void of reason in his effort to control the schools and the school people."[7]

The T.H. Harris Middle School in Metairie in Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs bears his name.[8] So does the T.H. Harris Campus of Louisiana Technical College in Opelousas, where he had been a school principal early in his career.[9] The T. H. Harris Auditorium on the campus of historically black Grambling State University in Lincoln Parish is also named in his honor, as is T. H. Harris Hall on Louisiana Tech's campus.[10]

John Coxe's successor in the position, Shelby M. Jackson of Concordia Parish, served from 1948 to 1964 and like Harris became particularly well-known across the state.

Harris died in Baton Rouge shortly before his 73rd birthday.[11] Harris is interred at Roselawn Memorial Park in Baton Rouge.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Thomas H Harris". Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved September 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ Much of the brief biography of Harris by the Louisiana Historical Association is derived from Rodney Cline, Pioneer Leaders and Early Institutions in Louisiana Education, 1969.
  3. ^ Henry E. Chambers, A History of Louisiana, Vol. 2 (Chicago and New York City: American Historical Society, 1925), pp. 53-54
  4. ^ "Susan T. Herring, "Homer High School, History of Claiborne Parish"". claiborneone.org. Retrieved December 17, 2010. 
  5. ^ Huey Pierce Long, Jr., Every Man a King: The Autobiography of Huey P. Long (New Orleans: National Book Club, Inc., 1933), p. 232.
  6. ^ "1940: Louisiana, As They Saw It". astheysawit.com. Retrieved October 22, 2011. 
  7. ^ "John E. Coxe: Candidate for Education Post Makes Statement", Minden Herald, January 12, 1940, p. 4
  8. ^ "T.H. Harris Middle School". harris.jppss.k12.la.us. Retrieved September 12, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Louisiana Technical College: T.H. Harris Campus". collegeview.com. Retrieved September 12, 2010. 
  10. ^ http://www.ltadm.latech.edu/facilities/Harris_Hall.htm
  11. ^ "Death Comes for Former Educator: T. H. Harris, 72, Succumbs in Baton Rouge Tuesday", Minden Herald, February 27, 1942, p. 1
  12. ^ New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 25, 1942
Preceded by
James B. Aswell
Louisiana State Superintendent of Education

Thomas H Harris

Succeeded by
John E. Coxe