‘Reflections’ Story: Old photo brings Harris’s story to light
A local legend appeared on The Daily Leader’s Reflections page March 6, and it did not go unnoticed. Many calls came in from readers about Eva Hall Harris, proudly stating they knew the lady who served Lincoln County’s black schools for 37 years.
A reminder of Harris’ life can be found at the end Lewis Drive in Brookhaven, where at the end of a row of brick homes and manicured lawns, a once-busy school campus sits abandoned. A gymnasium, classrooms and a cafeteria are filled with weeds and the shadows of a school was only open nine years when it was left empty after desegregation started in 1970.
During the 1960-61 school years, the Lincoln County Board of Education named a newly constructed high school the Eva Hall Harris School. On March 12, 1961, the school was dedicated and she was named the school’s first principal where she served for four years.
Several of the callers remembered Harris as their teacher or principal. Annie Tillman of Brookhaven recalled the time that Harris served as the Lincoln County Jeanes agent.
The term, Jeannes agent, traces back to an endowment created in 1907 by philanthropist Anna T. Jeanes, according to The Encyclopedia of Alabama’s website. The $1 million fund “was intended to assist community, county, and rural schools for African Americans in the southern United States,” the website stated.
Tillman is a retired English teacher and librarian. She has a long history in education, first in the all-black schools of Lincoln County before desegregation, including four years at Eva Harris School – “though I arrived there the year after she retired.”
Tillman was the high school’s English teacher, and then afterwards she worked for Brookhaven Public Schools. She retired as an English teacher at the Alternative School. All together, Tillman taught in Brookhaven for 32 years.
Tillman explained that Harris was the Jeanes supervisor in the 1950s. She remembers that Harris was highly respected in the black and white communities. The Jeanes supervisor or agent was the person who communicated between the black school teachers and the district’s white superintendent.
“She was the liaison between the black schools and the white superintendent,” Tillman said. “The black schools did not have a superintendent back then,” she explained. She said that the black schools did not have their own superintendent or school board; they were administered through the Jeanes Agent and the white superintendent for their school district.
Harris was the Jeanes agent in Jefferson and Lincoln counties for 16 years. She retired from the high school in 1965 and became active in the black community and taught summer school classes at Piney Woods Country Life School, Rankin County and at Alcorn.
In 1967, she was recognized for excellence in human relationships at the annual convention of the Federated Women at Piney Woods Country Life School.
Tillman remembers her coming through her school to counsel with teachers as the Jeanes agent when she was a student in the all-black schools.
“We went to a school where it was one teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade – there were only about two of us in each grade at that time,” Tillman said. “Her job was to help teachers do a better a job at keeping up with requirements,” she said, “and she was very helpful.”
THE DAILY LEADER / RACHEL EIDE / Alexis Smith (right), circulation clerk at the Lincoln County Public Library, checks out... read more