Question: T. H. Harris left his legacy in Opelousas and Louisiana. Who was T. H. Harris?
Answer: Thomas H Harris (March 26, 1869–February 24, 1942) was the dominant figure in Louisiana public education in the first half of the 20th century through his role as the state school superintendent from 1908-1940. Born in Claiborn Parish in north Louisiana only four years after the Civil War, he was christened Lee Marcus Harris. He became legally known as Thomas H Harris, and as with Harry S Truman, the middle initial stood for nothing. Harris was the son of a Baptist minister, the Reverend Austin Harris, and the former Rettie Rebecca Milner. He briefly attended the former Arizona Academy conducted by his father. In 1889, at the age of twenty, Harris enrolled for eight months in the former Lisbon Academy in the Lisbon community in Claiborne Parish. From 1891-1892, he attended the former Homer College in Homer, the parish seat of Claiborne Parish. Thereafter, he taught school in Claiborne and Winn Parish, the ancestral home of the Long political dynasty. In the fall of 1893, Harris enrolled at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, then known as "Louisiana Normal School."
Harris was later the assistant principal at Central High School in Lake Charles, the seat of Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana. While teaching in Winnsboro, the seat of Franklin Parish south of Monroe, he married the former Minnie Earle and converted to the Methodist denomination. The couple had one child, Sadie Grace. In 1897, Harris was again on the move when he was named principal of St. Landry High School in Opelousas in St. Landry Parish. At the same time, he studied and taught part-time at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. While in Opelousas he was responsible for the success of the high school and for starting a night time business school, which eventually lead to the T. H. Harris Trade School, named in his honor. When his wife Minnie died in 1899, a year later he married the former Mary Elizabeth Blackshear Evans, a widow with three small sons. In 1900, he briefly attended the University of Chicago, and in 1901 he studied for a summer session at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1903, Harris was named the principal of the large Baton Rouge High School. He also found time to take law courses at the Louisiana State University Law Center, and, for a time, he left professional education and sold life insurance. He was appointed state education superintendent in August 1908. Oddly, he did not finally receive his Bachelor of Arts degree from LSU until 1922. He procured the Master of Arts, also from LSU, in 1924. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from LSU in 1935. Harris died in 1942.
Left: T. H. Harris when in Opelousas.
Right: T. H. Harris later in life.
Top: T. H. Harris Trade School in the early days. Bottom: Building new addition in about 1970.
St. Landry High School during the late 1890s