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Orange County local releases “The Harris Family of Orange County, North Carolina”

Sallie copy.jpg
Beverly Scarlett's great-grandmother, Sallie Ray Harris, who is featured on the front cover of her book, "The Harris Family of Orange County, North Carolina". Photo courtesy of Scarlett.

When Beverly Scarlett found a strange photo in her mother’s attic before going to college, she had no idea this picture would become the front cover of her book almost 40 years later. 

Scarlett recently released “The Harris Family of Orange County, North Carolina,” which chronicles the history of a Black Indigenous North Carolina family as they continue to triumph through centuries of oppression. 

“I took the photo from the attic down to my mother, and I said, ‘Who is this person?’ and she chastised me, because she was my great-grandmother,” Scarlett said. “From that came my journey to find my true identity.”

At her Feb. 13 book reading hosted by Friends of Russell Rosenwald School, Scarlett spoke about her family’s history, as well as the treatment of Black Indigenous people in the United States. 

“My book is for anyone interested in local or Native American history, and anyone who’s heard that they have Native American history but are told there’s no such thing as Indian people with Black skin,” Scarlett said.

Scarlett's book focuses on memories of her family.

“It’s my mother’s story that I researched and put in book form,” Scarlett said.

She also spoke about her ancestor, Frank Harris, who was a painter at the University and was tried and convicted for purchasing wool from an enslaved individual.

“One of the things I’ve found is that while slaves were more often punished with public whippings, freed people of color were given high fines or told to leave the county, and that’s cruel and unusual in my opinion,” Scarlett said.

Phyllis Mack Horton, chairperson of the board of directors at Friends of Russell Rosenwald School, received a copy of Scarlett's book and wanted to share her work with others. 

“This is an intricate part of the history of our community, and we wanted to bring attention to the work and the research of 'The Harris Family of Orange County, North Carolina,'” Mack Horton said. “This book teaches about how we are so interwoven within humanity, and I think it’s really important that people understand the history of Black and Indian journeys."

When Rosenwald schools were built in the American South to educate Black children, there were over a dozen in Durham County, but the Historic Russell School is the last remaining, Mack Horton explained. 

“Hearing this book reading was interesting for me, because you hear so much about Black history, but coming onto the Board of the Russell School has really opened my eyes,'' R. Bradley Long, vice chairperson of Friends of Russell Rosenwald School said. “Listening today, the last name Long came up in Beverly’s reading, and so did my mother’s maiden name. We must have relatives, so all of this is intertwined.”

As a district court attorney, Scarlett often spends her breaks at the nearby library, researching the new book she is currently writing. But for her most recent book, Scarlett closed her reading by stating that she and her family will not be erased. 

“I have a mission to mark our place in time and tell our story,” Scarlett said. “We are mixed race people and we are here to stay.”

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