John F. Harris, a black Southerner originally from Virginia, was in 1890 a Republican legislator from Washington County in the Mississippi House of Representatives. Prior to the war he had been a slave, during the war a confederate soldier, and after the war a servant of the people of Mississippi and Confederate heritage. According to the journal of their House of Representatives Harris voted in favor of the erection of a Confederate monument on the capitol square in Jackson, Mississippi (S.B. NO. 25). Not only is that fact itself remarkable in the light of modern perceptions of race relations in the South, it is even more so remarkable, indeed indelible, when one considers the circumstances surrounding his vote.
Having learned of outspoken opposition to the monument, by a fellow representative who was the son of a Confederate veteran no less, Harris willed himself from his sick bed and addressed the house as follows (emphasis added):
Mr. Speaker! I have arisen here in my place to offer a few words on the bill. I have come from a sick bed … Perhaps it was not prudent for me to come. But, Sir, I could not rest quietly in my room without … contributing … a few remarks of my own. I was sorry to hear the speech of the young gentleman form Marshall County. I am sorry that any son of a soldier should go on record as opposed to the erection of a monument in honor of the brave dead. And, Sir, I am convinced that had he seen what I saw at Seven Pines and in the Seven Days’ fighting around Richmond, the battlefield covered with the mangled forms of those who fought for their country and their country’s honor, he would not have made that speech.
When the news came that the South had been invaded, those men went forth to fight for what they believed, and they made no requests for monuments … But they died, and their virtues should be remembered. Sir, I went with them. I too, wore the gray … We stayed four long years, and if that war had gone on till now I would have been there yet. … I want to honor those brave men who died for their convictions. … I want it to be known to all the world that my vote is given in favor of the bill to erect a monument in honor of the Confederate dead.
Imagine! A former slave and Confederate soldier, now an elected official of Mississippi, defending the South’s honor. Not only did he vote in favor of the passage of this bill, but his address led all six black Republican representatives in voting favorably of the same. Indeed Southerners of Color, are Southerners nonetheless. We honor John F. Harris this Black History Month for his example and integrity, as well as his love of the South land, despite the hardships he no doubt endured.