Students honour Alice Seeley Harris as an Unsung Hero

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A black and white photograph of Alice Seeley Harris sat on a chair on her 100th birthday

Alice Seeley Harris on her 100th birthday in 1970.

Alice Seeley Harris' photographs of the Free State Congo in the 1900s revealed the horror of colonial violence and exploitation to the world. The International Slavery Museum's former exhibition Brutal Exposure: the Congo highlighted how these images were used to overthrow King Leopold II's brutal regime.

More than a century after Alice took these photographs, students in Kansas have been inspired by her story and have developed a wonderful project acknowledging her work. One of the students tells us more…

"My name is Avery Stratton. I am a senior at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kansas, in the United States. A couple of my peers and I are currently working on an entry for the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes Project competition in Fort Scott, Kansas, which is an effort to highlight individuals who have demonstrated immense courage and compassion in the past who may have not received the recognition they deserve.

Alexis Balaun, one of our team members, discovered Alice Seeley Harris while watching a documentary on the Congo. Alice's heart-wrenching photos were showcased, but not much was said about the person behind the camera. Intrigued by this brave woman, Alexis presented her to our group and we knew that Alice would make the perfect focus for our project.  Upon further investigation, we found the International Slavery Museum’s exhibition 'Brutal Exposure', which proved to be a great resource for our project. We were surprised by the coincidence of our discovery and the museum exhibition’s opening. We have decided to showcase Alice's story in a documentary setting.

The goal of our work is to shed light on Alice's story and give her the commendation that her bravery so very much deserves. What’s sad about Alice’s story, and the reason why we chose to honour her, is the fact that Alice never truly received the credit that she deserved for her humanitarian efforts.

Collection of research pinned to a wall

One of the most unique aspects of this project is the establishment of international contacts. Last month, we had the opportunity to host an author visit at our high school for Judy Pollard Smith, an author based out of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, who spent 9 years researching Alice and even wrote a creative, non-fiction book titled 'Don’t Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris'.

Judy and our group gave multiple presentations in the school library that students and faculty were invited to attend. Judy talked about her research process, Alice’s impact on her, and in a workshop style, led the students through a creative writing and photo analysis activity.

Another contact we’ve made is Rebecca Seeley Harris, who is the great-granddaughter of Alice Seeley Harris. A few weeks ago, we were able to Skype with Rebecca. Both of these women have been instrumental in our project, and it’s been an amazing opportunity to be able to talk with people all over the world.

This project has been unlike anything that I’ve ever been a part of. Unsung heroes are humble and altruistic; they aren't motivated by superficial desires, they truly have a desire to help others. I really liked the idea of researching someone who has done something courageous in the past but hasn't received recognition for it. I think that a lot of students today only associate true heroism with fame and fortune, but this project encourages students to think otherwise.

I hope that people are inspired by Alice's bravery like I was. I really do feel as if this project has the potential to make a difference. If anything, Alice’s amazing work is recognized and she is commended for her bravery. You can find out more on our website"

The exhibition Brutal Exposure: the Congo closed on 7 June 2015.