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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Mason-turned-barber was a man of faith years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Pioneer stone mason and barber "Jack" Harris in an undated photo

Although some newspapers of the time had the offensive habit of identifying people of color by inserting the word “colored” in parentheses after their name, African Americans were among Marion’s most prominent citizens in its early days and were rarely identified as anything but that in the columns of the Record.

Andrew Jackson “Jack” Harris (1861-1916), a stone mason and barber, was among the community’s African American pillars.

Born in Tennessee, he moved with his father and three older siblings to Indiana after his mother died when he was but 8.

He married at age 20 in 1881 and moved to Marion, where he remained for all but four years of his life.

He worked for several years as a mason, building many of the landmark stone buildings that still stand today, then became a barber — an occupation he continued until his death.

In 1910, he advertised new low prices for his shop: 10 cents for a “plain shave,” 5 cents for a “neck shave,” and 35 cents (the equivalent of $9.50 today) for a haircut.

In 1902, Harris briefly relocated to Zion City, Illinois, a utopian refuge founded by faith healer John Alexander Dowie.

After Dowie suffered a stroke and Zion City was placed in receivership, Harris returned to Marion in 1906 and joined a barber shop operated by his nephews, William Woodson Holder (1873-1916) and Albert H. (Al) Holder.

Al Holder, born in 1878 before the extended family relocated to Kansas, continued operating the shop until his death in 1966.

Harris was renowned for his faith.

“He was deeply religious in sentiment and practice,” the Record wrote in his obituary, “and when not at work in his shop would nearly always be found with his well-worn Bible in his hands, seeking and finding the consolation and the inspiration which meant so much to him in the journey of life.

“Many of those even who did not know him well have been benefited by the silent influence of his devotion to the right. He did his work well. He discharged his duty as a husband, a father, and a citizen as he saw it. And he leaves a record that is a real heritage to the loved ones who mourn his going.

“The influence of his excellent life lives on. The Record speaks for all the community in extending sympathy to the bereaved ones and in bearing witness to the high esteem in which this good man was held.”

In those days, obituaries often seemed somewhat flowery by modern standards, but the Record went out of its way to note that Harris was “worthy of any praise we might utter.”

“For these many years,” it wrote, “the people of Marion have seen this man about his work — always faithful to the task, always quiet and conscientious, and courteous, living up to a high standard of conduct and example.”

Last modified April 16, 2020

 

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