Meet Richard E. Harris, the first Black reporter at The Arizona Republic




Valley 101 show

Summary: In 1964, at the age of 51, Richard E. Harris became the first Black reporter at The Arizona Republic.  His tenure came during a momentous and tumultuous period in our nation’s history. The year before, thousands were arrested while protesting segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Among them was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would deliver his famed “I Have A Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that same year.  President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Phoenix was segregated at the time. Years of redlining and restrictive covenants had left their mark on the city. Harris was assigned to cover poverty in the city, telling the story of some of its most vulnerable citizens.  Later in life, Harris wrote that he “detested some of the paper’s ultra-conservative editorials and stories slanted in favor of the Establishment.” Still, he was proud of his tenure there and what he accomplished. In his 2004 autobiography "The American Odyssey of a Black Journalist," Harris wrote that he “proved to be as capable as most white peers and soon found news stories outside the stereotype bounds.” Today, Harris is remembered by those who came after him as a modest, humble man.  “And what I’d like to say about Richard Harris is that, you know, he wasn’t a physically large guy. But he had very broad shoulders, figuratively speaking,” said Art Gissendaner, who worked as the sole Black reporter at The Republic a decade after Harris. “And something I tell a lot of young people now is that where we are now, we all are standing on someone else’s shoulders.” In this week’s episode of Valley 101, a podcast from The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, Executive Editor Greg Burton explores the story of Harris’ life and legacy.