In Memoriam: Elton C. Harrison, 1917-2014

Elton C. Harrison, a long-time university faculty member and administrator, died on September 20 at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was 97 years old.

A native of Tylertown, Mississippi, Dr. Harrison graduated from Southern University in 1938. He went on to earn a master’s degree at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and a Ph.D. at Ohio State University.

Dr. Harrison began his academic career as a member of the mathematics faculty at Fort Valley State University in Georgia. He then had a long career as an administrator at Southern University in Baton Rouge. When he retired from Southern University as vice president for academic affairs in 1974, he took his talents to Dillard University in New Orleans, where he served as vice president and dean of the Graduate School.



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  1. Dr. Elton C. Harrison worked with me at Dillard University for five years during the Presidency of Dr. Samuel Dubois Cook. He was truly a gentleman and a scholar, as well as, an excellent higher education administrator who always was able to see the Big Picture regarding any issue that came up during our tenure at Dillard University.

    He also had a wry sense of humor and was able to tell countless stories and good jokes in any social setting.

    I can say, it has been a great honor to have worked with him and to have known him.


    The Reverend Graham P. Matthews, Ph.D

  2. Lena Harrison Stiggers says:

    There isn’t a day that I don’t think of my Grandfather, who I called “Papa”. My father, Maxwell Harrison Sr. passed away when I was just 3-years old and without a moments hesitation, Papa stepped in. He guided me with his words of wisdom and by example. He was my rock, inspiration and my mentor. The memories of my grandfather will forever rest in my heart until my demise. I pass as much as I can to my children Harrison, Carson, Trinity and Jackson! I pray that they would live beyond his expectations and that he looks down with pride. He deserves that much! My grandfather and his contagious laugh…I’ve noticed that my own laugh has been passed down to me. That in itself brings my heart joy. Now, as long as I’m alive I try my hardest to make him proud and I will continue to do so until we meet again. My grandfather was one in a million! To know him was to respect, admire and love him wholeheartedly!

  3. TONY BOLDEN says:

    I just noticed this tribute to Dr. Elton C. Harrison and thought I’d respond. Dr. Harrison made an important contribution to my achievements in life. In fact, he gave me my first job in a university setting as Assistant Librarian at Dillard University. I had been known as a writer and the campus activist as a student; and since Dillard was a fairly conservative campus, I was pleasantly surprised when another, much younger, administrator told me, “Dr. Harrison likes what he sees in you. He said, ‘I like that Bolden guy. He turns his negativism [criticism] into something positive.'” I was similarly surprised to land a job at DU a few years later. I’d been recruited by one of the English professors, Ms. Helen Malin, but she didn’t have decision-making authority. And Dr. Herman D. Taylor, who chaired the Humanities department, was not impressed. He’d always seemed dismayed whenever he saw me. So, Dr. Harrison hired me as a librarian even though I’d never taken a course in library science. My degrees were in English and Black Studies. Dr. Harrison explained his logic when I met w/ him in his office. “Lots of people believe you need an MLS to be a good librarian,” he said. “I don’t believe that. I believe that a good librarian must have a love of books. And I believe that YOU have a love of books.” And he was right. Of course, this was well before library work became as technical as it is now. But that was my beginning. The next year I was asked to teach English courses while maintaining my duties in the library. And whenever a noteworthy intellectual visited the campus, Dr. Harrison would pull me away from my duties to meet and talk w/ that person. One meeting w/ the literary critic Blyden Jackson was instrumental. Jackson told me that he didn’t get his Ph.D. until he was 42 years old, and he encouraged me to go ahead and pursue it. “I worked for many years after that,” he said. But it was Dr. Harrison who gave me the final push. When I asked him to support graduate study in library science, as he’d mentioned during our initial meeting, he encouraged me to consider a doctoral program in English instead. That was vintage Elton C. Harrison. He didn’t have to agree w/ you to see something positive about you and to support you in that regard. The Black visual artist Doug Redd is another example. Of course, few people outside of New Orleans will ever know anything about him, but he was huge in that city. Redd was given a jazz funeral when he died. He wore dreadlocks when most of us stigmatized them and always wore dashikis. He strongly believed in Black cultural nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Redd had returned to Dillard to finish his degree in his 30s. And he told me: “Whereas most people give lip service to Black artists, Dr. Harrison supports Black art financially, and he’s never vocal about it.”

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