- First African-American to receive a Ph.D. from KU's history department
- Created and developed the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University
- Laid the groundwork for what would become KU's African-American Studies Department
Through her extraordinary career as an historian, Dr. Harrison has enhanced our understanding of the important role that African Americans have played in the development of our nation. She came to KU as a doctoral student in the late 1960s. And when she graduated in 1971, she became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from KU's History Department—making her part of the history she would soon become notable for chronicling.
While still a student at KU, Dr. Harrison helped lay the groundwork for KU's African and African American Studies Department by organizing an interdisciplinary black studies program through the Black Student Union. Encouraged by her students, and inspired by earlier historians who had sought out the stories of groups left out of the history books, Dr. Harrison became deeply interested in the oral history of African Americans. She pursued that interest after graduation, joining the history department at Jackson State University in 1972. And it wasn't long before she was recognized as one of the nation's leading oral historians.
Dr. Harrison is also renowned for her work in preserving African American culture. In 1977, she co-founded the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, preserving a cultural landmark and creating the first statewide museum on Mississippi African Americans. And when famous poet and novelist Margaret Walker Alexander retired from leading the Institute for the Study of the History, Life, and Culture of Black People, Dr. Harrison took over, eventually transforming the institute into a robust research center named for Margaret Walker Alexander. Today, the Margaret Walker Center houses the papers of Alexander and other influential black leaders, and works to preserve and disseminate African-American culture and history.
Dr. Harrison's career is best summer up by one of her nominators: "Dr. Harrison was a trailblazer, both for women and African Americans. Her accomplishments, at a time when the world told her to sit down and stay silent, serve as an inspiring model for young women everywhere."