City Honors Local African American Business Pioneer with Plaque Rededication

Published : Friday, October 21, 2016 | 5:04 AM

William Henry Harrison


The City of Pasadena honored the legacy of William Henry Harrison in a plaque rededication ceremony yesterday.

Harrison made history as the first African-American Realtor in Pasadena. Born in 1882, he died in 1955.

In the book Pasadena Area History, Harrison’s biography tells of a man who travelled from his home in South Carolina to the “promised land” in California. He borrowed $41 from family and by the time he reached the west coast, he had $1.50 in his pocket.

He settled in Pasadena, where his sister, Ida, lived.

After marrying, he and wife, Rachel, rented a home for $1 a week. It wasn’t long before Harrison decided to buy a home.

The couple bought a house on Lincoln Ave. that still belongs to family.

Harrison loved the real estate business, becoming an agent, broker and building contractor. He tackled racial issues head on and was on the front lines of the battle to integrate the Brookside Public Swimming Pool.

According to the biography, Harrison became known as an expert appraiser and was called upon for advice by bankers, financial experts and investors.

He built his real estate office near his home on Lincoln Ave., where the building still stands.

During yesterday’s rededication ceremony, Pastor Lucious Smith from Friendship Baptist Church gave the opening prayer, followed by the welcome, given by Northwest Programs Manager Lola Osborne. The closing prayer was given by Dr. William Turner, Pastor of the New Revelation Missionary Baptist Church.

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek and Council member John Kennedy spoke at the event. Kennedy said Harrison’s importance in the Pasadena community should be recognized.

“He opened the door for Asians, Latinos and African Americans to not only own real estate, but to also have real estate as a business,” Kennedy said.

Harrison’s grandson, Brett Bartlett, said he and his family were “honored and humbled” that the city is recognizing his grandfather.

Harrison’s two living children, daughters Anna, who is in her mid-nineties, and Lou, aged 91, “were able to see this and the ceremony today is right near the house where they grew up, on Lincoln and Washington, so it’s come full circle today,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he would like to think the entire family had the same thought process that his grandfather had, that everyone is equal, regardless of their skin color.

“I believe that we will continue to live with his memories for the rest of our lives,” he said.

He went on to thank Councilmember Kennedy.

“John Kennedy’s office has been great, and we appreciate the good work that Mr. Kennedy and his staff has done,” Bartlett said.

The dedication plaque reads in part: “He was a significant influence in the City, created many opportunities in housing and employment and was a major factor in the improvement of the quality of life in Pasadena.”


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