Some people in northern Louisiana do not know who James “Shack” Harris is or what he has done to change history. But after Carroll High School named its field house after Harris last week, more people will learn his story.
“That’s good for the history, a lot of people do not know who he is,” said Doug Williams, a close friend of Harris. “Now they are going to Google him and find out who he is and that he graduated from Carroll.”
Harris sees this as motivation for students at Carroll.
The Monroe native and Carroll High School alumnus was the first full-time starting Black quarterback in the history of the National Football League. He pioneered the way for several African Americans and opened the door for opportunity in football. During that time, Black quarterbacks were sometimes forced to change their position in the league.
During his tenure at Carroll, Harris was a standout athlete who led the football team to state championship titles twice. As a junior, he finished with a 24-1 record and ran an offense that averaged close to 35 points a game. Not only was Harris an honor student, the All-American football player excelled in basketball as well and was a force to be reckoned with.
“Winning the state championship my sophomore year, that team I played on was probably one of the best teams I’ve ever been affiliated with,” Harris said.
Growing up during the time of racism, segregation and the Civil Rights Movements, Harris knew the chances of playing in the NFL as a quarterback were rare. But that did not phase his.
As a freshman, Harris came to Grambling with two things, a promise and a prayer.
“The promise was that I was going to graduate. The prayer was to get the opportunity to play quarterback in the NFL,” said Harris, a 1969 graduate at what was then Grambling College.
That same year, Harris was drafted in the eighth round by the Buffalo Bills. On Sept. 14, 1969, he replaced the Bill’s veteran quarterback John Kemp. From 1969 to 1977, Harris was the first and only full-time black starting quarterback in the NFL and the American Football League before the merger. He instantly became a role model to minorities.
The idea to name the athletic complex after Harris came from Carroll High School’s football coach Jackie Hamilton said Williams.
“We don’t get enough of people recognizing people who have done something,” said Williams.
Hamilton saw Harris as the perfect role model for the students at Carroll High School. He said that Harris always takes an “active role” in the high school.
“He was a great quarterback here, then he went off to Grambling. I was younger, but I always looked up to him since he was such a class act,” said Hamilton. “It’s great for kids here to understand that you can be anything that you want to be. Harris was a fine example of that.”
Not only is this a great honor to Harris, but he is also thankful.
“When you’re part of a school that’s responsible for giving you direction and preparing you for the rest of your life, it’s always an honor,” Harris said. “Carroll will always be important to me for the contribution it made in developing me and preparing me for the rest of my life.”