By processing the donated collection to the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture (CAHC) and with the help of the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center, I am able to bring you a general biography of Mary Lee Harris. First, its necessary to understand HOW we acquired this collection!
Mary Lee Harris’s collection was split up after her death in 1986, first donated to the Plantation Agricultural Museum in Scott, Arkansas back in 2004, where they put up an exhibit on the life of an African American woman living in the state of Arkansas. This exhibit included various artifacts that were salvaged from her home – trinkets such as silverware, clocks, dishes and even various furniture. From there, the collection ended up in the hands of the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center, while additional items were donated to the UALR CAHC. Interestingly, the items donated to the Plantation Agricultural Museum and the UALR CAHC were from the same person. So the donor was the one who split the collection up!
In my possession were many documents, such as correspondence to Harris, various news articles and hand written recipes. I also was fortunate enough to have in my collection her original diaries and a few bibles. After visiting the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center, I noticed that they had one box in particular of interest, including photos. With these two collections together, I can piece together the wonderful, if not tragic, story of Mary Lee Harris.
It is interesting to read the communication between the various museums and archives that were involved in the acquisition of these materials. To understand this collection is more than understanding the history of Mary Lee Harris – it is the secret world of communication between donors and the institution where they donate. The confusion began when I noticed that there were many questions left unanswered. I could piece together the history of her mother, mainly since Mary Lee Harris saved her mother’s birth certificate, marriage certificate and even the sermon pamphlet from her funeral. It wasn’t until Colin, the senior archivist, did a little digging did we find out that there was actually a history written about her and submitted for the Susie Pryor Award year ago. After reading through this, we discovered that many of the artifacts were donated to the Plantation Agricultural Museum and from there, the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center. What a journey!