“Mississippi Fresno” An Interview with Dr. Floyd D. Harris

“Mississippi Fresno” An Interview with Dr. Floyd D. Harris
Image courtesy of Dr. Floyd Harris Jr.

By Hannah Brandt

“Being the only Black minister in Fresno on the front lines, in the trenches, I have a bulls-eye on me. But I am okay with that because being on the front lines gives people hope.” Dr. Floyd D. Harris, assistant pastor of New Light for New Life Church, grew up in West Fresno in the 1970s and 1980s. He credits his grandmother who raised him for what he knows and the work he does now. He feels that she gave him a foundation as a young man to follow in her footsteps as an activist.

Growing up, Harris lived in a “falling-down house on a dirt road without streetlights or garbage pickup.” West Fresno had been forsaken by city officials, especially once construction of Highway 41 in the late 1960s decimated the Black business district and cut off this African-American area of town from the rest of the city. Through it all, Harris was always impressed by his elders’ ability to “take nothing and turn it into something.”

As a little child running around the house, he paid attention to his grandmother’s meetings where he became aware that “these older Black people did not have the same rights as White people.” Why was it that his family had to dig a hole in the backyard for their trash and then incinerate it instead of having trash pickup on the street like in White neighborhoods in Fresno? At a young age, he realized that “these meetings were people coming together to make life better for me and future generations.”

Image courtesy of Dr. Floyd Harris Jr.
Image courtesy of Dr. Floyd Harris Jr.

As he got older, he tried to “figure out who needed to be held accountable for getting him and his loved ones’ equality.” After he graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1989, Harris got into Neighborhood Watch because he was “moved to compassion for the whole community.” People started to complain to him about the way the police routinely treated members of the African-American community. He was confused because he had been taught that the police were there to help everyone.

When he reactivated Neighborhood Watch in his area of West Fresno and became a spokesperson to the City Council, he “began to get both sides of the coin.” One night in the early 2000s, he had car trouble with his two little children in the car. While he was trying to get a hold of someone to help him with his car, he noticed two people in the bushes who looked like cops watching him. One of them told him, “You gotta get this car outta here!” Harris knew this cop from neighborhood meetings. He was shocked by the way the police officer spoke to him.

Suddenly, eight law enforcement vehicles swooped in and when Harris asked to see a badge, an officer demanded to have his keys. He had been working with the police department for more than 10 years by this point. He says, “To have police cars with dogs pull guns on my children and me was eye-opening. Everything changed that day. The light clicked on when I realized myself or my children could have died that night.”

He now understood firsthand what people in the African-American community in Fresno had been telling him for a decade. After his experience, he contacted Rev. Al Sharpton, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and created his own large civil rights organization, the National Action Network. It focuses on voter education, service to the poor and supporting small community businesses. Harris chartered and then became president of the Fresno chapter of the National Action Network.

“None of the White pastors in North Fresno called me about why we did die-ins in River Park. No conversation about why this disruption of their community was necessary when ours is being massacred… Why we don’t have the American Dream in West Fresno. Fresno is an incredibly segregated city, as is most of the U.S. outside the South. This is why I call it Mississippi Fresno… Why would I disturb North Fresno’s community? Because I want them to feel what we feel. Otherwise, they won’t know the process… what it feels like to be pulled over and immediately asked if I am on parole or have a gun. Folks up north control the whole city. For 25 years, I have been working as an activist; no one up north has ever contacted me.”

January is the month we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and the achievements of the civil rights movement. “Dr. King said when you see injustice, you first identify the problem. Once you identify the problem, you negotiate. If that fails, you take direct action. I am at direct action.” I want the world to know that Fresno is Ferguson, Fresno is Baltimore, Fresno is Cleveland. We have a constitutional and human right to be heard. I, unfortunately, have to educate my children that the policies of this country are against you.”

Image courtesy of Dr. Floyd Harris Jr.
Image courtesy of Dr. Floyd Harris Jr.

Harris’ activism finally led to his arrest four months after a protest in front of a Fresno police station. “The Michael Brown anniversary actions were the first time in 25 years people in Fresno stood with us en masse. I was so happy to see everyone in front of the federal building at rush hour. Some were blocking buses—teachers, professors, organizers…It was the power of all of us coming together in the middle of the street.” Floyd says undercover cops and motorcycle cops starting following them after they left. One woman was followed for five miles. Two cops were sent over to look for Floyd to see if he was in any of the cars. They cut the signal lights on the street they were all driving down.

Eventually, the police got to him and said they had a warrant for his arrest. They patted him down and two more officers (supervisors) appeared and said they had been sent to see if he would sign the ticket. “Your protests that were organized without obtaining permits have been causing hassles. People are calling the mayor, the chief of police, the city attorney’s office.” Instead of handcuffing him, they tried to negotiate with him. They said they understood his message. But Harris said, “Why are you treating me differently than the rest of the community now? Where is the paddywagon?” Reluctantly, the officer admitted they decided not to do that with the media there.

Harris’ court date is Jan. 6. “How do I feel? For every family that has lost a loved one to the hands of this police force and local government, to every mother who has cried her eyes out over losing a child to the state, if what I did was wrong to express myself about the massacres going on all over this country, I want to know why. If the power structure thinks that a warrant will silence me, they will have to do better. God has called me to be hope for those who have no hope. He has called me to speak for those who cannot be heard, all those in the graveyard. I will not stop until justice is served for them.”

Harris is the president of the National Network in Action. He may be contacted at 559-213-5886 or xyfloyd@aol.com. More info on his case may be found here: https://socialaction2014.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/press-release-police-chief-dyer-issue-warrant-for-local-pastor-jail-time-before-mlk-day-date-1-6-2016-time-800am-location-2317-toulume-superior-court-of-california/


Hannah Brandt is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact her at editor@fresnoalliance.com or hrbananah@ gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @HannahBP2.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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