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Obituaries » Charles F. Harris, Sr.
January 3, 1934 - December 16, 2015
Charles F. Harris, Sr. was born on January 3, 1934 in the Mount Hermon section of Portsmouth, Virginia and died on December 16, 2015 in New York City, New York. He was the youngest son of the late Ambrose E. Harris, Sr. and the late Annie Eula Lawson Harris.
Charles’ entrepreneurship aspirations and business acumen were groomed early during his elementary days when he delivered newspapers in the community to earn money. His father believed that education was important and insisted that Charles read the very papers that he delivered. It was during this time that his love for reading and interest in books was sparked. Charles went on to graduate from I. C. Norcom High School in 1951, completed a two-year program at Norfolk State University in 1953, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in History from Virginia State College in 1955. Charles furthered his studies at New York University in the areas of statistics and journalism. He also served in the infantry of the United States Army, receiving an honorable discharge as a First Lieutenant in 1963.
Charles began his career as a publishing executive with Doubleday & Company, serving as editor of Doubleday’s Publishing Division. During this time, he launched a series of books for elementary and high school students which focused on African-American history. In 1967, Charles became the senior editor for Random House. Under this publishing giant, he edited two volumes of writings on African-American history and culture collectively called Amistad.
In 1971, Charles became the first chief executive officer of the Howard University Press where he supervised all book publishing until 1986, when he founded Amistad Press, Incorporated. His publishing company specialized in African-American writings and included authors such as John H. Johnson, Arthur Ashe, Susan Taylor, and Congressman William L. Clay.
Charles sold Amistad Press in 1999 to Harper Collins Publishers where he joined as Vice President and Editorial Director. Charles also authored a monthly column on BET.com, focusing on African-American writings. In 2003, Charles decided to once again start his own company. He left Harper Collins and founded Alpha Zenith Media, Incorporated. Charles, along with his two sons, continued to work towards his passion for publishing writings that are critical to the African-American community.
Charles has received numerous awards and accolades and was a proud member of the Nu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. At a young age, Charles was baptized at Mount Hermon Baptist Temple in Portsmouth, VA and is current of Riverside Church in New York City.
Charles was preceded in death by his parents Ambrose E. Harris, Sr. and Annie Eula Lawson Harris, three brothers Roland A. Harris, Sr. (Odell), Francis A. Harris, Ambrose E. Harris, Jr. (Mamie), and two sisters Inez H. Clary (Salone) and Alice H. Farrow (Ernest). Charles is survived by his wife Sammie J. Harris of 59 years, two sons Francis C. Harris and Charles F. Harris, Jr, one brother Dr. James A. Harris, Sr. (Ursula), and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
The funeral will be held at Mount Hermon Baptist Temple in Portsmouth, VA at 12:00 noon on Wednesday, December 23, 2015. Members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. will hold a ceremony at 11:00 am immediately before the funeral.