Claude E. Harrison Jr., a former sports editor for the Philadelphia Tribune, died on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. He was 88.
He was born on Jan. 7, 1931, in Courtland, Alabama, to Mattie Sue DeGraffenreid-Harrison and Claude Harrison Sr.
His mother died during his birth. He was raised in Courtland by his maternal grandparents, Hal and Effie, and their two daughters, Dorothy and Helen. The DeGraffenreids were two generations of African-Americans educated at Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical, a historically Black college in Normal, Alabama.
He was raised by a prominent family in Lawrence County, Alabama. The DeGraffenreid family managed the local post office, owned a local dry cleaner and a juke joint. It was in this center of local Black entertainment that Harrison’s love of jazz began.
While Harrison was in his single-digit years, his father — a print setter and artist for Black newspapers — sought work throughout the South and ultimately moved north to Philadelphia. He recalled how this was partly precipitated by an experience the two had in Memphis, Tennessee. While walking in the city one day, a white man accused the two of looking at a white woman in an untoward way. Claude Sr. refused to give way or issue any sort of apology. With rough words ensuing, the elder Claude dispatched his accoster with one punch. The father and son pair high-tailed it from Memphis.
In Philadelphia, Harrison attended public schools, culminating at Northeast High School, where he began to develop lifelong friendships. At Northeast, he excelled at basketball and track. He was a varsity athlete for both teams. He was particularly enamored of basketball, which he played into his late 40s in recreational leagues and pick-up games.
After his high school graduation, Harrison attended Tennessee State University, in part based upon athletics. Upon needing money for his second year of college, he was informed by his grandparents that if he desired support of a financial kind, he had best attend the family university: Alabama A&M.
The next year, “Shaky,” as he was known on the basketball court, was an English major at Alabama A&M. He played on the basketball team as a point guard and small forward. Harrison also pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., joining the Gamma Phi Chapter in 1952.
Upon graduation from college, Harrison returned home to Philadelphia where he joined his father, the print set foreman, at the Philadelphia Tribune. He began his career at the Tribune as a sports reporter.
Through the Tribune, Harrison traveled across the United States, covering Philadelphia teams in their championship heydays. He was known as an exacting but nurturing editor: strict to the rules of grammar and facts; supportive in the development and growth of the newspaper’s reporters. His first-hand accounts are mentioned and featured in various academic articles, “The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen,” and the Library of Congress.
Being on the cusp of integration in sports, his work has been referenced throughout the country as scholars, fellow journalists and biographers attempt to better understand athletes’ experience of the times. He was one of the few reporters covering sports from and for the African-American perspective. During the last 20 years scholars have cited and used his writing, reporting and columns to examine the African-American experience in collegiate and professional sports.
He married a nurse, Shirley Smith, and two children were born to their union. While growing as a father, his work career blossomed. He moved from sports writer to sports editor at the Tribune and came to take upon the additional role of managing editor. He counted the publisher, E. Washington Rhodes, as a mentor.
In the mid-70s, Harrison stepped down from the Tribune and joined City Hall, working for another of his mentors, Edgar Campbell, in the Clerk of Quarter Sessions. He undertook the task of streamlining and modernizing the office.
Beyond work, Harrison and his family joined Zion Baptist Church, supporting the efforts of Pastor and fraternity brother Leon Sullivan Jr. He and his wife bowled and joined in the city’s Black Greek social life through their friends’ affiliations.
Active in the Philadelphia Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, and in the fraternity on a national level, he served on numerous commissions, especially in support of fellow Philadelphian and Grand Polemarch Hillary “Hip” Holloway. Among many accomplishments, Harrison wrote the fraternity’s first protocol manual.
He also became active in the Kemptwig Social Club. This organization of Black men, in a welcoming space they could call their own, was the basis for many of his friendships.
Harrison and his wife separated in 1976, a transition that was difficult for him, as he was a devoted father to his boys. Despite this, he remained an active, involved and attentive parent, continuing to bring his children to work, to expose them to life in the city and to set their expectations high.
In the 1990s, Harrison joined Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. In November 1998 he received the church’s right hand of fellowship. He served for more than 20 years as a trustee. He was a member of various groups and ministries including the culinary ministry, Wednesday Bible study, the Men of Enon and the Sunday men’s Bible study.
As a father of grown men, and then later as both a father-in-law and grandfather, he enjoyed his family, traveling periodically to New Orleans, California and Aruba.
In 2016, Harrison endured perhaps the most difficult event of his life: the death of his son, Gary. Gary had been his buddy in pinochle, road trips and mischief while his eldest son had moved to California. In the wake of Gary’s death, Harrison’s godson, Milton Oates Jr., and Gary’s widow became frequent companions.
He is survived by: his remaining son, Claude III; grandchildren, Lena, Olivia, Alexa, Jon and Philip; daughter-in-law Jerlyne; and other relatives and friends.
Services will be held Oct. 10 at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 230 W. Coulter St. Viewing is at 8 a.m. Services will follow at 10 a.m. Burial is in Ivy Hill Cemetery.
Beckett-Brown and Hodges Funeral Home handled the arrangements.