In Memoriam: Edwin Harrison

Published on: December 19th, 2016

906x680 Funeral second line for Edwin Harrison on October 21, 2016 in Treme [Photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee]

Funeral second line for Edwin Harrison on October 21, 2016 in Treme [Photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee]
Funeral second line for Edwin Harrison on October 21, 2016 in Treme [Photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee]

Edwin Harrison, Sr. passed away on October 13, 2016. He lived a remarkable life as a central figure in the Mardi Gras Indian and Social Aid & Pleasure Club communities and as a pioneering black taxicab driver. Harrison began masking in 1957 with the Creole Wild West and became Big Chief in the early 1960s. In 2016, Harrison persevered to create his final suit.

In 1965, he joined the Jolly Bunch Social Aid & Pleasure Club and established a mounted-horse division for the club. He shared the "His and Her Riding Club" with his wife, Rose, and together they led the club in numerous public events, including Zulu and parades preceding the Bayou Classic. In 1991, Harrison and Rose reigned as King and Queen for the Money Wasters and rode in a helicopter to the start of the parade at the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne, an event still talked about within the Social Aid & Pleasure Club community with great enthusiasm today.

He later joined Congo Square Nation Afro New Orleans and the Black Men of Labor Social and Pleasure Club and maintained membership in both groups until his death. The Black Men of Labor honored Harrison in their latest parade, which took place just ten days after his death. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his participation in New Orleans Cultural traditions; Mayor’s Certificate of Achievement, Oretha Castle Haley Elementary School Cultural Treasure Award, United States Senate Certificate of Recognition, Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame Soaring Eagle Award, among others.

Harrison also took on a quiet but important civil rights role early in his life as the owner of Sunset Taxicab, the oldest African-American cab company in the city (est. 1935). At the time he began driving cabs in 1963, black drivers were only allowed to pick up passengers at a select few spots in the city. Harrison drove professional for 53 years and won numerous awards for "cleanest cab."

Harrison is survived by four sons, Clayton, Kelvin, and Edwin “Poppa” Harrison Jr.,  Rodney Harrison; three daughters, Coleman, Patty Herbert, and Desaree Stiles; and a sister, Gloria Theyard; along with a large and loving extended family.

Edwin Harrison, Sr.'s funeral was held on Friday, October 21, 2016. WWOZ volunteer photographer Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee was welcomed by the family to capture the moments of remembrance and celebration of Harrison's vibrant life. See his photo essay honoring Mr. Harrison below. His niece, Cherice Harrison Nelson, has also contributed a loving tribute which can be read below the photos.

From Cherice Harrison Nelson:

The Harrison Family looks and bonds are strong. One look at my Uncle Edwin and you knew he was my daddy’s brother. His spirit will always live in my soul. I have many fond memories of him that I will hold near and dear to my heart.

As children, my parents took us see him at the Annual Jolly Bunch Social and Pleasure Club Parades riding literally, “high on his horse.” He would always come over to greet us with a smile and seemed to make his horse nod a hello to us as well.  Before I became Queen Reesie of the Guardians of the Flame group, I would watch the Carnival Day Parades on television and eagerly await Zulu hoping to catch a glimpse of him leading the Jolly Bunch mounted division, which he organized.

As a teenager, I would often see him waiting for potential passengers at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street as I walked from the Desire to South Claiborne bus stop on my way to Eleanor McMain Magnet Sr. High School located on S. Claiborne and Nashville Streets. On more than one occasion, in bad weather, he gave me a ride to school in his super clean Ed’s Cab.

When my daddy, the late Big Chief Donald Harrison, Sr., came out of retirement to establish the Guardians of the Flame, he was right there. I distinctly remember him coming over to bring a bag of white quills prepped the old fashion way, with a hammer made hole and muslin wrapped tip. He was, like my daddy, simultaneously a traditionalist and an innovator. He was there Carnival Day as the Guardians of the Flame walked out of the door.

He was never too busy to take time and answer questions about the rich cultural traditions of the city. In 1996 I had to give a presentation in New York City about the Mardi Gras Indians and social aid and pleasure club (SA&PC) neighborhood processions. Of course, my daddy was my go to for the Indians and my Uncle Edwin for the SA&PC tradition.  I went to his house with my notebook and pen ready to take detailed notes. We sat down at his kitchen table and early on he stopped and said, “I have some pictures, you can take them, just bring them back.” It was a treasure trove of history and I had slides  made to share during my presentation. The pictures included images from the 1960 -1980s. One of particular pride for him was a tiered decorated umbrella he created, “Nobody had this, it was new, I got an idea and did it.”  I received a rousing round of applause at the end of the presentation.

Over the years he was always supportive. He was the family ambassador; promoting, attending and bringing visitors to family events such as concerts, exhibitions and cultural presentations. He was a regular on Carnival Day standing at the door, tambourine in hand singing the traditional chants as a loving uncle and knowledgeable elder.

During the last ten years my relationship with him deepened. Every year he attended the Annual Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame Crystal Feather Dinner at Basin St. Station. He sat at the same table along with my mother, Herreast J. Harrison and other family members.  This year, as I was running around greeting guests and taking care of other matters, he called me. I told him, “one minute, I’m coming.”  After a few minutes, I went over to see what was so urgent. He said, “I don’t have a place card with my name on it.” My response, “Really, Uncle Edwin, you don’t know your name?” He smiled and said, “I need it.” I wrote and brought him a card that read, “Chief Uncle Edwin.” We exchanged a few words and then took a picture. In the picture he is holding my hand and whenever I look at it, which is often, I smile, close my eyes and feel the weight of his hand on mine. The Creator is masterful, for only the Creator could have given me such a wonderful last picture with my Chief Uncle Edwin.

Get the 'OZone monthly newsletter
facebook logo
Like us on Facebook
Volunteer at WWOZ
Hear it here!