African American Studies


Interviewee: Dr. Joseph Harris

Interviewer: Mark Naison

Date of Interview: April 11, 2017

Summary by Bailey Barnett

Dr. Joseph Harris is a physician and political activist. He was born in 1953 in Bronx Hospital in Morrisania, and grew up in the Bronx River Houses. Some of his most vivid childhood memories take place in the Bronx Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo, and the Bronx Park (now part of the Bronx Zoo).

As a teen, Dr. Harris left school to join the Black Panther Party and moved in with famous songwriter, musician, and producer Nile Rodgers in the Lower East Side. Eventually Rodgers moved back to the Bronx, and Dr. Harris remained in the Lower East Side for a brief period of time. While there, he became involved in grassroots activism, and eventually started working with the Tompkins Square Community Center.

While Dr. Harris was at the Tompkins Square Community Center, the organization partnered with Abby Hoffman to organize the first Venceremos Brigade to Cuba. The organization invited him to join, and he was able to travel into Cuba to stay for several months. While there, he was able to meet many different social activists and learn about their views on the world while working in solidarity with Cubans on local farms.

Upon returning to the United States, Dr. Harris joined the College Adaptor program. He earned his GED and went on to study at City College in the SEEK program. From there, we went on to medical school through another academic program.

While Dr. Harris was completing his studies, he lived in the Fort Greene Houses and began to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There, he hoped to organize and unite workers behind the Marxist movement. After a period of time there, he moved to Paris, which was a hub for the socialist movement at the time.

Since his return to the United States and the completion of his medical degree, Dr. Harris has been a practicing physician. His greatest medical accomplishment has been diagnosing Mumia Abu-Jamal with Hepatitis C. This diagnosis was used in Abu-Jamal’s winning case, where it was ruled that the failure to treat incarcerated individuals affected by Hepatitis C was a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Dr. Harris remains a practicing physician and advocate for social change to this day.

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