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*Homer Harris was born on this date in 1916. He was a Black physician and college athlete.
From Seattle, WA, Homer Harris Jr. was the only son of Homer Eugene Harris Sr. and Mattie Vineyard Harris. Young Harris grew up playing football, baseball, and soccer in the fields of the Washington Park Arboretum and swimming in Lake Washington. A gifted athlete, he became the first Black captain of Garfield High School's football team in 1933. On a football scholarship, he went to the University of Iowa, which he chose over the University of Washington because, as a Black man, he would not have been allowed to live on the UW campus.
In Iowa, he was voted the most valuable player in the Big Ten Conference. The following year he became the Big Ten’s first Black captain and the first Black captain of any sport in Iowa. But despite his talents on the playing field, his mother had other ambitions for him. He had considered playing professional football after graduation, but the National Football League had banned Black players at the time. His mother always called him Doc and told him that if he didn't want to go to medical school, that was fine, but she would have to help some other boys do it.
Harris went on to Meharry Medical College in Tennessee and joined the Army. After World War II, he did a residency in dermatology and returned to Seattle, where he set up practice. In 2002 he was inducted into the Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame as much for the barriers he broke as for the game he played.
An anonymous donor has given $1.3 million to create a half-acre park in Harris' honor. The gift is believed to be the largest single private donation made toward a park in the city's history. Harris said, "I'm very imperfect, and I've struggled just like everybody else." His wife Dorothy said he was deeply moved. "It really meant something to him that someone would do this for him."
Homer Harris died on March 17, 2007.
Image by Renee C. Byer