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Walter Warren Harper

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Harper, Walter Warren
Postal supervisor and originator of "overnight" mail, died at home in Los Angeles, Aug. 10, 2004. He was 89. "Warren" Harper was born June 29, 1915, in Catskill, New York, the second of five children born to Florence Alexander and Joseph Charles Harper, during the year that "The Birth of a Nation"(the film by D. W. Griffith) was shown in the only local movie house in the town. A mob made its way to "Joe" Harper's channel house on the Catskill Creek with intentions to burn it to the ground. He drove the mob off without losing his house or his growing family. A handsome, judicious and enterprising youngster who assisted his father in the daily maintenance of 'a day line,' a newspaper and magazine shop which sold snacks at "the point," a crossing of the ferry from Hudson to Catskill before there was a "Rip Van Winkle" Bridge, Warren Harper was an outstanding athlete in baseball and basketball. He was the first 'colored' person to make the varsity in his hometown, and had to leave that town because there were no jobs he could get after graduating high school, in 1934. A coach of his basketball squad made inquiries at Syracuse University for scholarship support, but Warren was told he had to help the family. It was the depression. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps of the W. P. A. at $30/month, $21 sent to the family, $9 to himself, and was stationed in Williamsburg, Virginia. Because he was literate, and could drive a truck, he was allowed to transport his fellow corpsmen while working on the roads and beaches in the area, but was told not to drive in the city proper, which was maintained by a white crew. It was the first time he was formally segregated. He felt he was being taught a lesson because he was a New Yorker; still he wrote letters 'for free' for his fellow corpsmen, and profited when the mostly southern men were sent "care" packages from home during the holidays. In letters home he told his family it was the best year of his life because of the camaraderie, the jokes, protection, and support he felt among the corps group he experienced nowhere else from "folks who had nothing but themselves to lean on." Warren Harper made his way to New York City during the year 1936, looking for work, and found it working in a haberdashery shop. He also met his lifetime partner, Katherine Louise Johnson, the second child of Alice Braxton and Dr. Roland R. Johnson, a Canadian, and a physician. Warren and Katherine married August 22, 1937 in St. John's Catholic Church and agreed to raise their three children, Michael Steven, born 1938, Jonathan Paul, born 1941, and Katherine Winifred, born 1943, in the Catholic faith. The Harper family moved to Los Angeles in 1951 to the family homestead. Walter Warren worked in the registry of the US Postal Service, and as a supervisor in priority and overnight mail, in a long career that spanned thirty-six years. He retired in 1979. After his wife of fifty years died in 1988 W. Warren Harper was coaxed into writing a memoir of family remembrances, privately published, entitled I'M KATHERINE, a memoir begun as a series of letters to his two remaining children, Michael and Katherine (Jonathan died in 1977 in a motorcycle accident). It was a memorable and eloquent document of the love and venturesomeness of a black American family, a "love story" between two enterprising and genial people who believed in family above all else. Many people, young and old, came to flourish and blossom at the table of Katherine and Warren Harper. Warren Harper was more than a good neighbor, father and husband. At the 50th anniversary of his high school graduation in Catskill, New York, he was acknowledged by his peers as the outstanding student-athlete of his generation: quiet, unsung, handsome, and eloquent. He is survived by his son Michael, daughter Katherine Guyton, sister Winifred Branham, brother Kenneth Harper, twelve grandchildren, eighteen great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren; three nieces, Michon Shepheard, Cynthia Nunn, and Pamela Branham, and many near and dear friends. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donation1010
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 26, 2004
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