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H. Benton Harris Papers, 1939-1991

Identifier: 063

Collection Overview

The H. Benton Harris Papers, which date from 1939-1991, document approximately 50 years of H. Benton Harris's professional activities. The majority of materials concerns Harris's time with the Western Avenue Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Included in the collection is history of the Western Avenue Baptist Church through the 1990s. The collection contains newspaper clippings, newsletters, correspondence, church programs, photographs, and awards.


  • 1939-1991
  • Majority of material found in 1961-1979 (Bulk dates)


Access to Collection

This collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Use

The material in this collection is subject to copyright and intellectual property restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to understand and observe copyright law and to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyright. Researchers must obtain written permission from the copyright holder(s) if they wish to publish materials from this collection. Questions concerning copyright and permission to publish should be directed to the Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections.


Henry Benton Harris (H. Benton Harris) was born in Bloomfield, N.J. in 1898. He moved to Montclair, N.J., at the age of three where he graduated from grammar school. He earned a Bachelor of Theology from Shaw University in Raligh, N.C. in 1916. Taking a break of his studies during World War I, Harris served overseas as an Army sergeant. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Talladega College in Talladega, Ala. in 1922 and a Master's degree in Sociology from Drew University in Madison, N.J. in 1926. He earned a doctor of divinity degree from the Howard University School of Theology in Washington, D.C. in 1928, and also studied at Andover Newton Theology School in Newton Center, Mass. in 1931, Boston University School of Theology in Boston, Mass., and Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. Harris was ordained on May 12, 1937.

On June 1, 1960, Harris became the minister of Western Avenue Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass. He and his his wife, Athrin Icilmah Thompson Harris, lived at 168 Western Avenue, down the street from the church.

Harris was heavily involved in the Cambridge community. He taught weekly religion classes throughout the city and was a member of the Family Counseling Service, Civic Unity Committee, Clergy Seminary Planning Committee, Police-Community Relations Committee, Interfaith Housing Corporation, Department of Social Relations, Central Square Ministers Association, Black Funding Board, and the Cambridge Tuberculosis and Health Association.

Nationally, he was the recording secretary for the United Baptist Convention of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, a member of the Massachusetts Council on Churches, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Prior to his tenure at Western Avenue Baptist Church, Harris served as the minister of Shiloh Baptist Church Hartford, Conn., Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Norwich, Conn., People's Baptist Church in Portsmouth, N.H. (March 1931-November 1937), Union Baptist Church in New Bedford, Mass., Bethlehem Community Church in Holyoke, Mass., Second Baptist Church in Greenfield, Mass., John Street Baptist Church in Worcester, Mass., and Zion Baptist Church in Everett, Mass.

H. Benton Harris died on February 23, 1970 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Jamaica Plan (Boston, Mass.), leaving his wife, Athrin, and two brothers, Robert and Edwin Harris, both of Montclair, N.J. Hundreds of people attended Harris' funeral service, which was held at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church because of its large seating capactiy as well as the close ties between the two congregations. He is buried in Montclair, N.J.


.4 Linear Feet

.4 Cubic Feet

1 boxes (Oversize)

100 Items

Language of Materials


Organization of Collection

Approximately 100 items grouped alphabetically into three folders: Church Programs, Clippings, Photographs and one series: Scrapbook.

Custodial History

Donated by Athrin I. Harris on September 26, 1994.

Processing Information

Processed and encoded by Sony Prosper in November, 2015 under the supervision of Alyssa Pacy.
Finding Aid to the H. Benton Harris Papers, 1939-1991 063
Sony Prosper under the supervision of Alyssa Pacy
November 24, 2015
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections Repository

Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Cambridge MA 02138 USA