Fred R. Harris Collection

312 cubic feet

1963-1976

portrait of Fred Harris

Biographical Sketch of the Creator of the Collection

Fred R. Harris was born November 13, 1930, in Walters, Oklahoma, a small town in the southwestern part of the state. A 1952 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Oklahoma, he also received a law degree "with distinction" from that institution in 1954. In addition to practicing law in Lawton, Oklahoma, he served for eight years as a Democratic member of the Oklahoma State Senate.

In 1963, changes on the state and national political scene impacted Harris's career. In January 1963, Robert S. Kerr, Oklahoma's senior U.S. senator, died. Oklahoma Governor J. Howard Edmondson resigned and had himself appointed to the Senate post, which he held until the next election in November 1964. That year, Harris was elected to fill the remaining two years of the term. He was reelected to a full term in 1966.

As a member of the Select Committee on Small Business, as well as the Government Operations, Public Works, and Finance committees, Harris centered his legislative interests on human needs. Known for his ability to understand and work with opposing factions, he focused on improving the welfare system and increasing job opportunities for poor and unskilled workers. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Research, he introduced legislation to create a National Foundation for Social Sciences, designed to provide the social sciences with the visibility that the National Science Foundation gives to the natural and physical sciences.

In 1965, the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce chose Harris as one of the ten outstanding young men in America. President Lyndon B. Johnson named him to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission) in the summer of 1967. He drifted from the Johnson administration on the Vietnam War issue in 1968 and was vocal on urban affairs and race relations. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey came close to naming the Oklahoma senator as his vice-presidential running mate. The following year, Harris was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

While Harris's voting record in the Senate increased his standings with the national liberals, his popularity in Oklahoma declined. In 1971, Harris decided not to run for the Senate and instead announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Lack of money, however, forced him to bow out before the primaries. He again threw his name into the presidential ring in 1976 running a down-to-earth "new populist" campaign. The basic issue of his campaign was a "fairer distribution of wealth and income and power" through a majority coalition of economic self-interest put together across race, age, sex, and regional lines. He had a strong showing in the Iowa caucus, but following weak showings in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts primaries, Harris abandoned his presidential quest, left Washington D.C., and moved to New Mexico. Harris currently serves as a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico.

Scope and Content of the Collection

The Fred R. Harris Papers, a sizeable collection of 309 cubic feet, covers the period 1963-1976. While the bulk of the materials pertains to Harris's congressional career, the records of the later period, 1972-1976, document both of Harris's presidential campaigns. The congressional papers are arranged in a single series chronologically by year and then alphabetically by subject. Departmental material can be found under the category "federal government" during the earlier years and under the name of the department or agency for the latter part of the collection. Legislative materials are found under the category "legislation" and then the subject or bill number as well as within the series alphabetically by subject. In addition, invitations, schedules, post office files, clippings, constituent correspondence, government publications, speeches, reports, and legislation can be found in the Harris papers.

The collection is especially strong in materials pertaining to Indian affairs, firearms/gun control, Vietnam, and natural resources. Water projects, especially those pertaining to the Arkansas River Basin, Poteau River Basin, Tenkiller Ferry Dam, and the Red River Basin, are also represented. Approximately 2.5 cubic feet of correspondence, speeches, hearing transcripts, articles, and a book manuscript, document the legislation which proposed a National Social Science Foundation.

Three subseries fall at the end of the Harris Collection: Democratic National Committee files (1968-1969), LaDonna Harris's files, and presidential campaign files. While chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1969, Harris collected approximately 3 cubic feet of material consisting of correspondence, memos, forms, and miscellaneous items. Topics include: fund raising, campaign financing, DNC films, Richard Nixon, youth leadership and participation, consumer affairs, foreign relations, taxes, Vietnam, the Kerner Commission, increasing party participation, party reform, and various position statements.

The collection includes 4 cubic feet of material covering the period 1964-1976 related to the work of LaDonna Harris, Senator Harris's former wife. This material reflects Mrs. Harris's work with social problems, especially mental health and poverty, and Native American issues. An active member of the Comanche tribe, she organized an Indian education project at the University of Oklahoma before her husband's election to the U.S. Senate. In 1965, she expanded this project into Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (OIO), an organization which she served as president. Once in Washington D.C., President Johnson appointed her as one of six Indian members of the National Council on Indian Opportunity. At the time of her husband's presidential campaign, LaDonna Harris was the full-time director of Americans for Indian Opportunity, an advocacy group which she founded and is now based in New Mexico. These files also include materials on the Joint Commission on Mental Health of Children, the Women's Advisory Committee on Poverty, and the Southwest Center for Human Relations.

The last subseries is the presidential campaign files, which include approximately 20 cubic feet of material related to both Harris's 1972 and 1976 campaigns. Most of the records pertain to the more lengthy 1976 campaign. The types of materials included cover all aspects of a campaign, including clippings, press releases, correspondence, issue information, VIP profiles, schedules, invitations, position statements, memos, manuals, brochures, speeches, and polls.

In 2011, three cubic feet of files from Gary Dage, legislative assistant to Harris, were added to the collection. The files came to the Carl Albert Center as part of the Glenn English Collection. Dage also worked for Congressman English following his time with Senator Harris. Because this material was from Dage's time with Harris, the decision was made to add it to this collection.

The Harris Collection also includes a group of 19 maps. These maps include highway maps for several states and cities as well as the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Also included are some building project plans.

The Harris Papers also include reprints of articles written by Harris as well as the manuscript for his published work, The New Populism. For materials on Harris's early years in the Oklahoma State Senate, researchers are directed to the Museum of the Great Plains in Lawton, Oklahoma.

There is a box and folder inventory to this collection. Subject cataloging has been done for the first 127 boxes as well as the three subseries; the inventory for other boxes reflects VIP names found in the various folders. In addition, over 1500 photos from Harris's political career can be found in the Fred R. Harris Photograph Collection. There is also an online exhibit about Fred R. Harris. For more information on the archival holdings, please contact the Carl Albert Center.


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