James Henry Harris was born near Creedmoor in Granville County, North Carolina in 1832. He apprenticed as a carpenter as a young man before starting his own business in Raleigh. When laws in North Carolina regarding free people of color became more aggressive in the 1840s, he moved to Ohio where he attended school for two years. Within a decade, he traveled to and taught in Liberia and Sierra Leone where over the previous twenty years, thousands of freed slaves from the United States had resettled. Harris then moved to Terre Haute, Indiana where, in 1863, he was asked by Indiana Governor Levi Morton to help raise a regiment of U. S. Colored Troops for service in the Civil War. After the war, he returned to North Carolina where he became a teacher for the New England Freedmen's Aid Society. Harris soon saw a need to ensure that freedom for blacks included legal and political equality, so he entered politics. In 1865, he was elected to the North Carolina Freedmen'