All things must come to an end…

Well, bloggers, this is my last day for this semester at the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture. I have successfully processed a collection – the Mary Lee Harris Papers – which should be on the shelves as soon as a few loose ends are tied up. I have also digitized an entire document collection, which took a grand total of 42 hours between February 18-May 5. I averaged two hours a day two times a week on that project and am happy to see it finalized! I learned the research room well enough to at least contemplate helping patrons who were researching…though I do have to say a bit more training in that department would have been helpful! Luckily, the other people who were at the desk on the genealogy side were extremely nice, shout out to Rhonda and Anna!

As promised earlier in the semester, I have the link for my finalized Life Interrupted video: Ruth Kawana Yonemoto.

This was a two hour long interview with Ruth Kawana Yonemoto, an internee at the Rohwer Relocation Center during World War II. My job was to condense this oral history into a 3-5 minute clip that had a general “theme”. There are many themes to pick from in these interviews, but I chose to focus on the racial stereotype and discrimination that Yonemoto suffered from friends and strangers after the attack on Pearl Harbor…all because she had Japanese heritage. Its an interesting piece and I hope to do more of this in the future.

I learned how to work Archivists’ Toolkit in order to create a finding aid, specifically the one for Mary Lee Harris. I also uploaded pictures into CONTENTdm. CONTENTdm is used by archives to store and manage digital materials. During the last month and a half of my GA, we received a grant for a project called the Arkansas Foodways Project, which was part of the larger Arkansas Heritage Month, which focused on Arkansas culture, specifically food. Along with the other archivists, I pulled books from the UALR collection that pertained to food and scanned these recipes in order to create a menu. This menu will potentially be recreated for the event, The Arkansas Food Festival, which is scheduled on May 18. I also scanned pictures of food dating back to the early 1900s, some of which included hunting parties and food markets, and uploaded these to CONTENTdm. Remember my post about Dublin Core? Well, I finally was able to use Dublin Core in a professional setting – these pictures are now uploaded and properly labeled.

Speaking of the Foodways Project, another thing I did to help was to create the timeline for the event. From the early 1800s to the present day, Arkansas has a rich history of agriculture, which I helped define and chronicle in a timeline that will be online. For now, here is the link for the event: Heritage Month Event. Soon, my timeline will be featured, until then if you are in town, stop by for the event!

This isn’t goodbye, so do not fret. I have the digital internship this summer with the UALR CAHC, so you will hear from me again. See you soon!

Mary Lee Harris – Biography

Now that we understand a little of how the story of this woman was collected, let me introduce you to Mary Lee Harris herself and her life…

Mary Lee Harris was born in Malvern, Arkansas, in 1912. On February 9, 1928, at age 15, Mary married Isaiah Harris but separated only a few years later.  Mary never divorced Isaiah Harris, and the couple had no children. Mary would later record seeing a man named Willie in her journals and many of her earlier correspondences included letters from various gentlemen, one in particular named Ike Aiken.

Her known family members include her mother, Georgia Lee Larkin, her grand-mother, Harriet Mason and her great-grandmother, Violet Canady. Violet Canady was born in 1840 as a slave and a child of slaves but at age 25, after the slaves were freed, she was able to she marry and have children in freedom. Violet Canady died in 1912. Harriet Mason was born in 1876 and died in 1954. Georgia Lee Larkin, Mary’s mother, was born in Louann, Arkansas August 3, 1897. Georgia married Mr. Willie Stephens at the age of fifteen but did not stay with him for her life. Willie Stephens died on March 26, 1928. They did have one child – Mary Lee Harris. Later, Georgia  married Reverend R.Y. Larkin and stayed with him until he died in 1953. Georgia was a member and served at the Highland Baptist Church and was frequently called “Mother” in correspondence. She died July 25, 1973.

Used with permission from the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center. Not to be downloaded or reproduced in any way without the written permission of the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center .
Mary Lee Harris baby picture. Used with permission from the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center. Not to be downloaded or reproduced in any way without the written permission of the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center .

Mary Lee Harris had a bad leg which she tried to fix with surgery, but this was unsuccessful. She suffered with her ulcerated leg from the 1940s through the rest of her life. In her early life, she lived with her mother in Malvern, until her mother married Reverend Larkin. She then moved to live with her grandmother until her grandmother, Harriet Mason, suffered a stroke. Both moved back in with her mother until her grandmother died in 1954.  Reverend Larkin died in 1953. She lived in the house that her mother passed down to her. After her mother died in 1973 she rarely left the house, electing instead to have her groceries delivered to her home. She grew more crippled and tried not to walk on her bad leg whenever possible. She did have a few medicinal remedies, such as a jar of mud dauber wasps nest, which put on open sores or wounds. Her makeup collection suggests she cared about her appearance when leaving the home. Mary Lee Harris died in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1986, during the terrible heat wave that summer. Fortunately, her letters, diary and various artifacts survive to this day so that we can tell her story.

As of today, I have officially processed the collection and moved these documents from a crude looking box to professional document boxes, and labeled them appropriately so that future researchers can come and find these primary documents from Mary Lee Harris. If you are curious, come by the Arkansas Studies Institute building and head up to the second floor research room and check out the collection: UALR.MS.0245. See you there!

Mary Lee Harris – How did we aquire this collection?

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!

Mary Lee Harris
%d bloggers like this: