Feb. 2—HENDERSON — Featured speaker, attorney and local historian Tem Blackburn summarized a dedication Tuesday morning for Andrea Harris as "one of the brightest moments in the history of Henderson."
Henderson Police officers controlled traffic on Beckford Drive, and tethered balloons swayed in the breeze as dozens filed into the parking lot to celebrate the naming of the city's Dr. Andrea L. Harris Operations and Service Center, which the Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce honored with a ribbon-cutting.
With state Rep. Terry Garrison, D-32, looking on from the crowd, a Gov. Roy Cooper surrogate was among a group of speakers that also included Alana Harris, niece of Andrea, the fierce champion for social and economic justice who passed away in 2020 at the age of 72.
"If I am correct," Blackburn said, "this is the first public building which has been named for an African American in Henderson since Eaton-Johnson [school]. She would be gratified it it were the first of several more to become public memorials of the aspirations and achievements of African Americans from this community and in this community.
"It would be a grand thing if the names of Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Col. James Hunter Young and others now known mostly only to local historians could join the Andrea Harris city operations center as public records of their achievements."
It was not lost on a few of the speakers that Tuesday's celebration was held on the first day of Black History Month.
A 1966 Henderson Institute graduate, Andrea Harris co-founded the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development in 1986.
"She was a trailblazer, a community advocate, an educator, and a leader," Gov. Cooper said through his office's director of public engagement, Stephanie Pigues. "Her contribution to the establishment of the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development has been an important tool for the success of women and minority-owned businesses in our state. Her tireless efforts have made an important difference in communities all across North Carolina. I am grateful for the recognition you are bestowing on my good friend Dr. Harris."
Mayor Eddie Ellington called Andrea Harris "one of the brightest lights of our time and a brilliant champion for all people," before Desiree Crawford outlined Harris' legacy as a pioneer for Black women.
Crawford is the Oxford-Henderson Alumnae Chapter president of Andrea Harris' beloved Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Dressed in red, the sorority showed up Tuesday in full force, filling the first several rows of seats.
Crawford said Andrea Harris was "the embodiment of some of the greatest and also forgotten parts of Henderson."
Other speakers included but were not limited to City Manager Terrell Blackmon, National Institute of Minority Economic Development Board Chairman Lew Myers, Franklin Vance Warren Opportunity Inc. CEO Abdul Rasheed and City Councilwoman Melissa Elliott.
Alana Harris injected levity, saying that if her "Aunt Andrea" was alive today, she would make sure to use the building named after her as a point of reference whenever giving directions around Henderson.
Blackburn noted the building wasn't far from Rock Spring Street, where Andrea Harris grew up, and that it was located on one of the busiest streets in the community, which he thought was fitting for someone who was thought of as one of the busiest people in the community.
Blackburn, calling Andrea Harris a "cherished friend," said immediately upon their introduction, he thought of Harris as one of the classiest and smartest people he would ever meet. She was smart in an intellectual sense, he said, but also in a determined and pragmatic way.
"She knew what needed to be done and got it done," Blackburn said, "and she definitely was one of the smartest people I've ever known."