Narvie Harris was a force for Blacks in DeKalb education

Attending a groundbreaking at Lynwood Park School are, from left, Principal Harvey Coleman; PTA President Mrs. McDaniel; Narvie Harris, Jeanes Supervisor; and DeKalb School Superintendent Jim Cherry.

Narvie Jordan Harris was Jeanes Supervisor for DeKalb County in 1944, supervising all Black schools in the county until desegregation in 1968. She was part of the Jeanes Supervisor program initially funded by the $1 million donation of Philadelphia Quaker Anna Jeanes in 1907. Jeanes Supervisors were Black educators hired to oversee Black schools across the United States.

Narvie Jordan was born in 1917 in Wrightsville, Georgia, to James Jordan and Anna Hobbs Jordan. James Jordan owned a pressing club and tailor shop in Wrightsville, later operating the same type of business on Auburn Avenue when the family moved to Atlanta.  

In 1934, Narvie Jordan graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta and went on to attend Clark College. Following her graduation from Clark, Harris taught in Henry County and Calhoun County. In addition to teaching, her responsibilities included preparing the children’s lunches and teaching night school. 

Harris continued her studies at Grambling College in Louisiana, where she received a scholarship to study elementary education. Back in Atlanta, she was selected to attend a new program at Atlanta University, where she received a master’s degree in administration and supervision in 1944. In 1945, she married Joseph Harris.

Narvie Harris’ Jeanes Supervisor office was in the Cox Funeral Home on Marshall Street in Decatur. She was charged with supervising 17 schools, all in run-down buildings. She described her attitude going into the job, “Although I was considered quite young for such a responsible position, I possessed an air of authority born in the conviction that important work was too long left undone, and there was no time to waste.”

Harris traveled the backroads of the county to visit the 17 schools. Twelve of the schools were in churches and two were in lodge halls. The schools’ chairs, desks and facilities needed repair or replacement, and the books were old and used, sometimes barely usable. 

She and her committee planned to consolidate to six schools: Hamilton, Robert Shaw, Lynwood Park, Bruce Street, County Line and Victoria Simmons. Lynwood Park School was already located on Osborne Road in the historically Black community of Lynwood Park in what is now Brookhaven. Doraville, Mt. Zion and Mt. Moriah Schools, were all Black schools which consolidated with Lynwood Park School. Mt. Zion was on Chamblee Dunwoody Road, east of what is now Peachtree Boulevard. Mt. Moriah was in the area where North Druid Hills Road and Briarcliff Road meet.

Following the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling to desegregate schools, improvements were made to Black schools in Georgia, and in some cases, new schools were built. Lynwood Park School was one of these, identified today as “equalization schools,” because they claimed improvements for Black students, while maintaining segregation. 

Narvie Harris continued to work to improve the education of all Black DeKalb County students through better programs, facilities and supplies. She is credited with organizing a health and nutrition program, PTA Council, music festival and science fair during her tenure.  

When desegregation took place in DeKalb County Schools in 1968, Harris assumed the role of Instructional Coordinator for Elementary Schools. She remained in this role until 1983 when she retired. In 1985, the DeKalb County School Board gave her the title of honorary associate superintendent of DeKalb Schools. 

Many photographs and remembrances are included in the book she cowrote with Dee Taylor, “African American Education in DeKalb County, From the Collection of Narvie J. Harris.”She began the book by describing the importance of education in her own childhood home.

“Learning was planted like a seed in us as children in our home,” she wrote. “It germinated.  Learning bloomed from the immense joy of it, which was planted deeply inside me.”

It is obvious from her writing that she cared deeply about education and her students.

In 1999, a DeKalb County School was named in her honor — Narvie J. Harris Traditional Theme School. Mrs. Harris died on Oct. 30, 2009, leaving behind a legacy of helping the Black students of DeKalb County through those trying years. 

You can email Valerie at pasttensega@gmail.com or visit her website at pasttensega.com.

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