Harris is a trailblazer of all trades

Published 5:13 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

More than 60 years ago the Keystone area of Alabaster was home to Keystone Lime Company and all its company houses.

In one four-room house lived 13 relatives. Luckily the rooms were extra large, allowing several beds in each bedroom.

By sleeping three or four to a bed, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, three sisters and one brother were a part of Bobby Harris’ life.

Mrs. Sarah Cairns had young Bobby mow her grass and take care of her yard for years.

She encouraged him to read, gave him books and promoted the idea of higher education. A “false start” in college resulted in him dropping out because of money issues.

After serving in Vietnam, Harris was able to try college again on the G.I. bill.

He also marry his high school sweetheart, Brenda McKinney of Harpersville. They are parents to three sons, Ivan, Isaac and Ira, and are grandparents of eight.

Harris loved school and began by attending junior college in Selma. He also preached at several area churches, then it was on to Alabama State University, where he got his bachelors. in 1976.

In 1986, he got his masters in education from Samford and an AA certificate in 1995.

Bobby Harris is a preacher, politician, teacher, retired principal and trailblazer. He has seen and met many challenges.

As a man trying to become Shelby County’s first black principal, he had many obstacles to overcome. Often he locked horns with fellow council members, local city law enforcement, school board members or business owners. He received threats, and won some lawsuits against both black and white opposition. His triumphs are also many. He invited George Wallace to speak at Shelby County High. Harris was instrumental in getting more Alabaster businesses to hire blacks and was successful in fighting for the right to fulfill his dream of becoming a high school principal. For 10 years he had been assistant principal at Thompson High. After much controversy Harris was appointed principal at Thompson High by a federal judge. He served for three weeks and after much controversy wound up becoming principal of the Shelby County School of Technology instead. He retired from there in 2000.

Harris just finished his autobiography and is seeking a publisher. He continues to preach at New Hope Baptist in Sylacauga, where he has been for 34 years. Harris loves reading, watching sports and playing with grandchildren. He is a Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers fan and of course a big ’Bama supporter.

Harris is a man who chased his dreams and ideas in uncharted territory … a man comfortable in his own skin.

Sandra Thames writes a weekly column for the Alabaster Reporter. Contact her at bobthames1942@yahoo.com.