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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A father's work ethic inspires a son

Harris's first job was as a shoeshine boy on the streets of Greensboro. He would shine shoes until he spied a policeman, at which point he would grab his materials and run. The work ethic his father instilled in him led him to take a number of jobs as a child.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Was that job in the shoeshine, was that your first job?
Yeah, shoe shine, yeah.
Where would that have been about? [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
My first encounter with shining shoes, I must've been nine, ten years old. I had a shoeshine box, and I used to go to the bus station, and you'd start shining shoes, and you'd look up, and here comes a cop, and you've got to grab your shoe shine box and head out for home or somewhere because they didn't allow that. But most kids, that's the way we did. We'd get out with our little shoe shine box, but it was "agin' the law."
So were you, do you think you have a particular kind of—that's pretty young to be shining shoes.
No, my father, my father taught me you work. You make a living. Whatever you do, in my neighborhood, in this neighborhood there were some old houses along here, one of my the worst jobs that I ever had the little old lady, nice little old lady, she said, "Johnny Harris, I want you to paint my house." She had a room she wanted me to paint. That house had never been painted, and that was the worst. She had cheap paint, and I just whipped myself to death. I couldn't have been eleven or twelve. But I had heart, and I knew I wanted to make some money. I knew if I could paint this room, I was going to get five dollars. But I finally got it finished, but I'm going to tell you that was the worst job I ever had. But I did the job. She was satisfied, and then I had another little lady that lived next door here, next door to this house right now, she would come out, and she would, we had a little convenience store around the corner. She would come out, send me to the store, and she was the penny lady. I'm going to get a penny from her. Well a penny would go a long way for what I wanted. But I learned to hustle. I learned to work because my father insisted.