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Melissa Harris-Perry

Television host and political science professor Melissa Victoria Harris-Perry was born on October 2, 1973 in Seattle, Washington. Her father, William M. Harris, Sr., was the first dean of African American Affairs at the University of Virginia; her mother, Diana Gray, primarily worked for nonprofit organizations, colleges, and state government agencies. Harris-Perry was raised in both Charlottesville and Chesterfield County, Virginia, and attended Thomas Dale High School. She received her B.A. degree in English from Wake Forest University in 1994 and her Ph.D. degree in political science from Duke University in 1999. She also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Harris-Perry first taught at the University of Chicago, and then as an associate professor in the department of Politics at Princeton University. In 2011, she was hired as a professor of political science at Tulane University, where she also founded the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. In 2012, she became host of “Melissa Harris-Perry” on MSNBC. In July of 2014, Harris-Perry returned to her alma mater, Wake Forest University, where she was named the presidential chair professor of politics and international affairs. She also directs the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University.

Harris-Perry’s 2004 book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, won the 2005 W. E. B. Du Bois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. She released her second book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, in 2011. She has also been published in scholarly journals and edited volumes, and authored a monthly column entitled “Sister Citizen” for The Nation magazine.

In 2009, Harris-Perry became the youngest scholar to deliver the W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard University. Also, in 2009, she delivered the prestigious Ware Lecture, becoming the youngest woman to ever do so. Harris-Perry served as a trustee of The Century Foundation and sat on the advisory board for Chef's Move!. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from Meadville Lombard Theological School and Eckerd College.

Harris-Perry is married to James Perry, and is the mother of two daughters, Parker and Anna James.

Melissa Harris-Perry was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 12, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.203

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/12/2014

Last Name

Harris-Perry

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Victoria

Schools

Thomas Dale High School

Wake Forest University

Duke University

Union Theological Seminary

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Melissa

Birth City, State, Country

Seattle

HM ID

HAR47

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Washington

Favorite Vacation Destination

Barcelona, Spain

Favorite Quote

The Struggle Continues

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

10/2/1973

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Winston-Salem

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Red Velvet Cake

Short Description

Television host and political science professor Melissa Harris-Perry (1973 - ) is the host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry” and the presidential chair professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University. She founded the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South and has authored two books: Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.

Employment

University of Chicago

Princeton University

Tulane University

MSNBC

Wake Forest University

The Nation Magazine

Favorite Color

Tiffany Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Melissa Harris-Perry's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Melissa Harris-Perry lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her family's history of polygamy as well as her parents' previous marriages

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her family and godmother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her family's Christmas traditions

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her childhood experience in the Unitarian Universalist Church

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her childhood understanding of her own racial identity

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her current occupation

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about the relationships between her mother, father, and godmother

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about how her white stepsister experienced racism because of Harris-Perry's mixed race

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Melissa Harris-Perry shares the lessons she learned from her father, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Melissa Harris-Perry shares the lessons she learned from her father, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her relationship with her father, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her relationship with her father, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her relationship with her white stepsister

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her teachers, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her teachers, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about what she wanted to be as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her decision to attend Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes what influenced her feminism

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her experience at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes enrolling at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina for graduate school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her doctoral dissertation and her first book

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about establishing the NIA House at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes how her feminism changed her identity as a black nationalist

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her experience as a rape survivor

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her friendship with Blair Kelley and teaching at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her experience as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes the beginning of her career in the media

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her career as an academic at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois and at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her mother's role in helping to raise her daughter

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her experience at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her experience at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Melissa Harris-Perry describes her experience at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, New York

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

11$5

DATitle
Melissa Harris-Perry talks about her childhood understanding of her own racial identity
Melissa Harris-Perry describes her career as an academic at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois and at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey
Transcript
Now, can you talk a little bit more about that? You grew up in a home with a white mother [Diana Gray] and a white sister [Elizabeth] and African American you in the South [Charlottesville, Virginia]. How did your identity form as a young girl?$$And, I also just don't want to miss that at every point also visiting the black home of my dad [William M. Harris, Sr.], who had this very, very strong, I mean who was college roommates with Stokely Carmichael. They lived on the same hall at Howard [University in Washington, D.C.] and, you know again, who had been at the March on Washington and saw himself as a community organizer and, who also, you know my relationship, my parents' relationship was often marked my race in some really important ways in that my dad constantly was-- had a lot of anxiety about his black child being raised by a white woman and so my mother was very open to--"Okay, so what do I need to do?"--and my dad was very open to telling her-"this is what you need to do." The most important things that my mom did, I think, around my racial identity, or both of my parents, is there was not, in the 1970s, a notion of biracial identity. There is now. It took me a long time to understand that because race is socially constructed that I have to accept other interracial young people. They really do experience themselves as biracial. I do not. I experience myself as a black person with a white parent, and that is because from the beginning that is always how I was described to myself, how my family described me; just, the notion, "biracial" was not a word that was used. But also, my mother was very concerned that we live in a community that had many African Americans; again, I went to Jackson Via [Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia], named after two black women, and it was a predominantly black elementary school, as well as my middle school; maybe not predominantly black, but certainly more than 1/3. I had black child care providers all through my baby years, who helped to teach my mom how to do my hair and my mom was extraordinary. She could corn row my hair in extremely fancy styles and beads on the ends, and you know even the little, like, you put the tin foil on the end to keep the beads, my mom did all of that. And those were very self-conscious decisions made by my parents, sometimes thought out by my parents, about making sure that I was constantly understanding myself as a little black girl, and so I did. And, there was never, whether that was bad or good, it certainly was very straight forward. There wasn't a space for a crisis of identity there.$So, what are you doing academically as you are building this media profile for yourself?$$Oh, working on the next book. So, the first book ["Barbershops, Bibles, and BET"] is, you know, out of the dissertation and it's about, you know, black folks disagreeing. I am writing articles along because, you know, you just, just trying to tenure (laughter). That's what that goal is. So, tenure is always, you know, you must get the second book. So, I mentioned I went through a very painful divorce, my daughter not even two years old when my husband [Dennis Lacewell] left. The financial circumstances of suddenly becoming a single parent and, so I decided to write a book about black women this time and, at this point, I have really much more clearly solidified my identity as a feminist. I am working very closely with Cathy Cohen. She has at that point, taken over leadership of the Race Center [Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois]. I am on the Board of the Race Center at Chicago. We are pushing the administration to give us a building and postdocs. I am running that workshop. I am also running a workshop on race and religion. I am running another workshop on political psychology. I am engaging across fields. I am giving tons of lectures around the country--although not nearly as many as I give now--but it felt like a lot, especially as a single parent at the time, and I am working on this book about black women and the idea of the strong, black woman and the challenges around the notion of the strong black woman, collecting tons of data, I am doing experiments. I am teaching that high school class with the Kenwood Academy [High School in Chicago, Illinois] kids, and I am very much trying to build a life as a Chicago intellectual, and then I have lunch with one of my white male senior colleagues in the political science department and I tell him about my new book project, which I am really excited about, and he says, "Well, that's not very interesting. I'm not sure that you'll be able to get tenure with that." And I thought, okay, okay, I'm okay. I'm just going to go to Cathy and we'll go to Michael [Dawson] and they're going to tell me that they got me. It's going to be all right. So, I go to Cathy and I go to Michael and I was like, "Okay, this is what the senior colleague told me, but you got me right?" And they were like "Well....I don't know, maybe, it's really hard to just have you. We are sort of governed by consensus and I think a lot of people are going to think that" and I was like (gasp) Oh my God! I might not get tenure. I might not get tenure and I'm divorced and I have a baby, and I am working my butt off and I don't know what to do and I, I freaked out. So, I did what all people who freak out do. I went to Princeton [Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey]. (laughter). And, I spent a semester as a visiting professor at Princeton and built my relationships there. I was offered tenure in both the politics department there, and I never came up for tenure in Chicago, so I don't know whether I would have gotten tenure in Chicago or not. I was too freaked out after that. Found another route, and headed off to New Jersey.