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Release: Immediate

Former regent, wife donate tapes, personal papers to UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Dr. Percy Harris, the first black Iowa regent and his wife Lileah, have donated historically significant tapes and transcripts, personal papers, and photographs about their lives in Iowa to the University of Iowa Main Libraries special collections department.

The tapes consist of a secretly recorded, contentious Dec. 12, 1961, meeting of St. Paul's Methodist Church trustees who debated whether to sell church property to the Harrises who were members of the Cedar Rapids church. The all-white trustee board agreed to sell the land to the Harrises, but their decision created a great division in the church, Harris said.

Because of their race, the Harrises could not find affordable property on which to build a home. Harris was the only one of 12 St. Luke's Hospital medical interns who could not find a place to live when he arrived in Cedar Rapids.

Harris says he was unaware of the tape's existence that he came to possess three years ago.

"I've had it in my car for three years, and after I had a meeting with Samuel Becker," UI communications professor emeritus, I decided to donate it and the other items to the UI, Harris said.

Bob McCown, manuscript librarian, says special collections also received a transcript of the recorded tape and says the items are significant records of Iowa's history.

"The items are an interesting look at civil rights and race relations in Iowa during the 1960s, and I'm sure civil rights historians would enjoy having the tapes to listen to, and the manuscripts to read," McCown said.

Lileah donated personal papers, including letters, photographs, and speeches to the Iowa Women's Archives as part of the African American Women in Iowa Project.

Kathryn Neal, assistant archivist and the project's director, says Lileah's donation largely chronicles her work as a volunteer in various community and educational activities in Cedar Rapids.

The archives' holdings relating to African American women also include papers from Lileah's two sisters, former regent Betty Jean Furgerson and Martha Nash, former director of the Martin Luther King Center for Education and Vocational Training located in Waterloo.

"Mrs. Harris's papers document one African American woman's experiences in Cedar Rapids. Combined, the Furgerson sisters' papers reflect the women's individual life histories and illustrate the uniqueness of archival collections," Neal said.