Janette Hoston Harris, whose arrest during a lunch counter sit-in led to her expulsion from Southern University in 1960, was being remembered for her role in the civil rights movement following her death Friday in Washington. She was 79.
Harris, who had recently been in poor health, was awarded an honorary degree from the historically black university in 2004, 44 years after state officials forced her from campus and from attending any Louisiana institution of higher education.
Harris was among 13 Southern students who took part in Baton Rouge protests in March 1960, according to the minutes from a 2004 university board of supervisors meeting at which the school gave each of them honorary degrees. Harris' degree was in psychology.
“While a student here, she bravely participated in one of the most prolific sit-ins here in Baton Rouge as part of this nation's Civil Rights Movement," Southern system president Ray Belton said in a statement. "For this and her many contributions nationally, we will always salute her."
The board's minutes show Harris and three others protested at the S.H. Kress lunch counter on March 28, 1960. Two students protested at Silman's Drug Store the next day and another seven targeted the Greyhound bus station. Two months later, three law students protested at the Kress store and were expelled. They, too, received diplomas more than four decades later.
Harris recalled the sit-in in a 2013 Washington Post article, describing how she sat at the counter reserved for white people, instead of a table in the corner designated for blacks.
“I said, ‘I’d like to have a cup of tea,’ ” she told the Washington Post. She said a black waitress replied that she could bring it to the corner table.
“I said, ‘Oh no. I want it right here. . . . I’m a customer,’ ” Harris said.
Someone called the police and Harris was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. She, and her fellow students who participated in the sit-ins, were later kicked out of Southern University and all state schools.
Harris went on to Central State University in Ohio completing her degree. She later earned a master's degree and her doctorate from Howard University. In July, she was honored with the Southern University Alumni Federation Lifetime Achievement Award.
She took on many roles in Washington throughout her professional life, working as an instructor of African American history at the University of the District of Columbia, becoming the city's historian and serving as the president of Carter G. Woodson’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in Washington.
Harris, a Monroe native, is survived by her husband, Rudolph Harris; their son, Rylan; and daughter, Junie.