Oral Histories

Interview of Hiawatha Harris

Mental health specialist and psychiatrist. Medical director of the Community Mental Health Center in Los Angeles.
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:
Mental health specialist and psychiatrist. Medical director of the Community Mental Health Center in Los Angeles.
Stevenson, Alva Moore
Harris, Hiawatha
Persons Present:
Harris and Stevenson.
Place Conducted:
Office of Dr. Hiawatha Harris in Los Angeles, California.
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 U.S.
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.
4 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.
Childhood in New Orleans and on the farm in Mississippi—Recollections of his father—Role of Aunt Marie and Grandfather in his upbringing—Family makes living as sharecroppers—Entering school early—Learning to read—Uncles Jack and Mitch—Moving to attend school in Jackson, Mississippi—Secondary education in New Orleans and Mississippi—First of family migrates to California—Kaiser recruiting African Americans to work—Employment as a porter—Migrating to San Francisco—Living in Oakland—Attending college at City College of San Francisco—Free education—Transferred to San Francisco State University (SFSU)—Drafted into army—Graduate School at SFSU—Black professionals in the San Francisco area—Desire to enter medical school—Acceptance at Meharry Medical School—Interns at San Francisco County Hospital—Trouble obtaining residencies—More on sharecropping in Mississippi.
Parents’ views and response to on racism—Standards Harris was held to by his parents—Church as protector and provider for young people—Political involvement of grandparents vis-à-vis the Church—First involvement with Black Congress—Friendship with Walter Bremond—Employment at State Hospital—Central City Community Mental Health Center as catalyst for his involvement with Black Congress—Al Cannon—Role as director—Beginnings, mission and goals of Black Congress—Congress as amalgamation of many community organizations—National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant—Bremond’s role in bringing diverse organizations to the table—Bremond’s background—Harris’ college education—Black Congress as single organization to address community needs—War on Poverty—Community meeting the night of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination—Role of meeting in keeping the peace—Role of US Organization and Maulana Karenga—Selfless role of Bremond—Success of the Black Congress—Lack of funding and its impact on Black Congress—Nonviolent direct action—US Organization’s influence in Congress and role as cultural educator—Congress’s key thinkers and organizers—Black elected officials’ role—Tom Bradley’s role—Role of churches—Balancing needs of the Congress versus those of individual organizations—Coming together of similar groups from other states—Establishing Regional Center—Role of Al Cannon—Needs addressed by center— Loss of funding for programs after Johnson administration— Events leading up ’92 rebellion— Black Congress organizations still in existence today.
Legacy of the Black Congress— Building the Central City Community Mental Health Center and its impact on the community — The stigma of mental illness— The beginnings of the South Central Regional Center— Frank Lanterman and the passing of the Lanterman-Petrie-Short Act— Why the Community Health Center and the Regional Center have outlasted other organizations—Racism and mental illness in the community.