The Willie Harris collection chronicles Southern Univesity and life in Scotlandviille, Louisiana over a period of two decades. Willie Harris was the first Chief of Police for Southern University and built the Southern police department himself. He was also a professional photographer who captured every aspect of the world around him. After Harris' death in 1992, his house was being readied for sale. During the clean-up, Harris’ family threw out the photos that their father had been taking during his career. Terry was walking his dog, as he and Capt. Harris lived on the same street and happened across the bags of photos that were set out on the curb. There were eight bags of photos containing somewhere around 30,000 black and white eight by ten photos and 20,000 five by seven photos total. He then asked the family if he could have them and they said yes. Terry contacted other local photographers, Naville J. Oubre, Christopher J. Rogers, Eddie Harris and the photos were taken to the Southern University John B. Cade Library to be sorted and categorized. The collection had been organized into seven basic categories - portraits, churches, schools, weddings, funerals, social organizations at Southern University, social organizations not at Southern University, and historial photos.
Terry has, over the last decade, managed to get quite a few listing of names to go with the faces in the collection. He says that this was made possible due to the fact that after he began to employ traveling exhibits to churches, libraries and museums, they would ask the viewers to not only look at the pictures, but to also interactively attempt to identify those they might recognize in the photos. And that they did. And still continue to do today. As we said before, quite a few of them have been labeled but there are still a lot more that have yet to be. Willie Harris’ subjects have included youths that went on to become huge names: Muhammad Ali and Lynn Whitfield, to name a few.
James Terry has produced six books on the Willie Harris collection since 1999 that include (in the order they were released): “Our Story, Our Glory,” “More Glory,” “Spirit of the People,” “Tribute,” and “Freedom’s People.” There has also been an Louisiana Public Broadcast production of the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott that has commissioned, through Terry, the usage of some of the pictures of Captain Willie Harris. When asked about how he felt that the Willie Harris collection made its mark on the grand scheme of black history or how the work of Willie Harris related to the black identity during an interview in February 2007 (" Loire Magazine”), he told us: “Often times, the activities of Blacks at large are not displayed in national media outlets. Instead, they are showcased more on a local level. Captain Harris spent a great deal of his time photographing black people doing things that they could be proud of (historical events, church events, school events and political, etc). A number of things in black history were recorded by Willie Harris, but they never received the same popularity that other black history events did.