Oral Histories

Interview of Alice Harris

Founder and executive director of Parents of Watts.
Twenty-Five Years of Community Organizing and Institution Building in the Aftermath of Watts: 1965-1990
African American History
Social Movements
Community Activism
Biographical Note:
Founder and executive director of Parents of Watts.
Stevenson, Alva Moore
Harris, Alice
Persons Present:
Harris and Stevenson.
Place Conducted:
Harris's home in Watts, Los Angeles.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alva Moore Stevenson, Series Coordinator, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; B.A., English, UCLA; M.A., African American Studies (Latin American Concentration).Stevenson prepared for the interview by perusing the files of Congress member Alfred S. Moore and various primary and secondary sources related to the Watts Rebellion of 1965 and urban unrest in the United States.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Harris did not review the transcript, and therefore some proper names may remain unverified.Sessions 2A through 2C do not have transcripts. Timed logs were prepared to accompany the audio for these sessions.
2.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series documents community organizations and institutions that arose in the aftermath of the Watts Rebellion to address issues such as education, employment, healthcare, housing, transportation, and police harassment. The first phase of the series involved interviews with key organizers of the Black Congress, an umbrella organization of Black activist groups whose purpose was to reconstruct the community.
Family origins in Demopolis, Alabama.
Female family members who were midwives—“Catching babies” at age nine—Designation as the “singing and praying girl”—Family members who were farmers—Blended nature of Harris’s family—Occupations of parents—Membership in Masons and Eastern Star—Harris’s pregnancy—Working as governess for Korn family children in Turkey Hole Hill.
Pursuing career as a beautician—Assistance of Ann Korn—Pledge to help others—Moving to Detroit, Michigan—Employment at diner and courtship with owner—Marriage to Robert —Leaving husband and migrating to Los Angeles—Settling in Jordan Downs housing project.
Farmland Harris’s grandmother owned—Grandmother’s lineage—Harris’s early education—Mother’s teacher training—Demographics of neighborhood during childhood—Racial dynamics—Class divisions—Strata within classes—Misperceptions about Watts—Self-employment as a beautician—Meeting and marriage to second husband Al—Beginning to work with the schools—Illnesses of Harris’s children—Involvement of Social Services—Support of parishioners at Harris’s church—Appearance in court—Working with Social Services.
Awareness of civil rights movement—Importance of political involvement—Dianne Feinstein--Effect of experience in midwifery on life’s work—Proactive problem-solving—Threatened closure of King Hospital—Governor Schwarzenegger’s visit to Watts—Reporting healthcare needs to McCone Commission report on Watts Rebellion of 1965—Origin of name “Killer King”—Medical student training—Funding from Governor—State bill which established King Hospital and Drew University—Need for community watchdog—Charles Drew University—Origin of name “Sweet” Alice— Watts Riots
Involvement in the Black Congress—Meeting Diane Feinstein—Securing a home for pregnant women addicted to drugs
Calling in favors—Daughter applying to Pepperdine
Assessment of black representatives for Watts—Meeting Mayor Tom Bradley--Changing demographics—Formation of Parents of Watts [POW]—Tree falls at Harris’s home—POW mission of bringing Blacks and Latinos together—Flooding in Compton and Watts—Forming Adult School—How gangs have changed—Drug abuse and community exploitation—Guns in community—POW social programs—Crisis Center in Altadena—Shelter for mentally ill—Disaster response—Cooking for shelter residents—Opportunities provided by Mrs. Korn—Knowing how to help others—PhD and the PhD—Parenting classes—Dealing with stress—Alice’s wedding.