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In Memoriam: Ira Harrison—Activist, Scholar and Poet

December 8, 2022

Ira Harrison ’67 Ph.D. (SSc) spent the later years of his childhood in Syracuse, where his father and stepmother worked as social workers and instilled in him a drive to solve problems and make a difference in his community. Their influence and his inquisitive nature set him on a path to become a pioneer activist, scholar and poet.  

Portrait of a man who is wearing a suit and has glasses, with his hand on his chin
Ira Harrison ’67 Ph.D. (SSc) 

Harrison died on April 22, 2020; the Perspective recently learned of his passing. 

Harrison was professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He began his education at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1951. He served as president of the Academic Sociology Honor Society while majoring in sociology. After earning a bachelor’s degree, he served in the U.S. Army until 1957. Upon his return, he earned a master’s degree in sociology and anthropology at Atlanta University. 

Harrison taught history and geography at Boggs Academy in Keysville, Georgia, and then moved back to Syracuse in 1960. He attended the March on Washing- ton in 1963; the protest fueled his activism. A few years later, he and others were reportedly water hosed and beaten while protesting the removal of low-income housing for what was known as “urban renewal” in the City of Syracuse. At the time, Harrison was pursuing a doctorate at Maxwell. He studied Black churches and storefront churches to write his dissertation, “A Comparative Case Study of Church Desegregation in a Midwest Metropolitan Area.” While a student, he worked as a course coordinator and taught introductory courses in sociology. After completing his Ph.D., he enrolled in Johns Hopkins University’s School of Hygiene and Public Health and earned a master’s degree in public health in 1971.  

His numerous accomplishments include the launch of the Association of Black Anthropologists and its integration into the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the publication of eight books of poetry. He received numerous awards for his academic and professional contributions, including the Distinguished Fellow Award for his 50-year membership in the AAA and the Legacy Scholar Award from the same organization.  

Published in the Fall 2022 issue of the Maxwell Perspective


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