This oral history interview with Joyce Braden Harris was conducted by Jan Dilg at Education Northwest in Portland, Oregon, in three sessions from November 19 to December 12, 2018. Harris was nominated by Oregonians to be interviewed as part of a program by the Oregon Historical Society Research Library to enhance and expand the range of voices in the library's collections. Interviewees are selected from the pool of nominees by a staff committee appointed by the historical society's executive director.
In the first interview session, conducted on November 19, 2018, Harris discusses her family background and early life with her grandmother in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, and then with her parents and siblings in Madrid, Spain. She discusses her experiences as the only member of her family to speak Spanish and as the only black person in her class. She also describes growing up in Harlem and its community. She discusses her education in New York, including a teacher strike in 1968; starting a black literature class; racism that she, her teachers, and other students faced; and her early activism and leadership roles. She also talks about the Vietnam War, particularly its effect on two of her brothers, who served in the Air Force during that time. She discusses her experiences at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, including how she chose that school. She also speaks about her and her brothers' experiences with police. She talks about events that shaped her political outlook, including the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.; her love of mystery novels by black women authors; and people who have influenced her. She discusses some of the awards she has received, her involvement in annual Kwanzaa celebrations, and her work as an educator.
In the second interview session, conducted on December 3, 2018, Harris discusses her experiences at Reed College in Portland, including her efforts to make the curriculum less Eurocentric. She talks about her involvement with Ron Herndon and the black community in Portland; racism she experienced and witnessed; and her involvement with the Black Student Union. She describes the origins of the Black Educational Center, which provided free summer education to black youth and became a full-time private school in 1974. She also talks about continuing her studies at Portland State University. She speaks at length about her work as an educator, including designing lessons for her students, working with parents, and taking her students on field trips to meet public figures. She then discusses working at the Talking Drum bookstore and her involvement in Portland Kwanzaa celebrations. She speaks at length about working with Portland Public Schools to improve the educational environment, particularly for black students. She talks about working with the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory beginning in 1992. She closes the session by discussing her family life.
In the third session, conducted on December 12, 2018, Harris discusses the work of the Black United Front towards providing quality, non-racist education. She also talks about her involvement with the BUF. She talks about the presence of police in schools, the rise of charter schools, and organizing black college fairs. She discusses her involvement with the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, including the coalition's efforts toward a federal investigation of police violence in Portland. She also outlines a brief history of police killings of black people in Portland and describes some of the memorials she attended. She then describes organizing a welcoming committee and other volunteer efforts for New Orleans evacuees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She also shares the story of arranging a funeral for a baby who was found in a dumpster, and whom she named Baby Precious. She closes the interview by talking about some of the awards and other recognition she has received, and her plans for the future.