After graduating with honors from Virginia Union University, Harris became the first African American student admitted to the School of Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia. She graduated in the top five of her class earning her degree in 1955. Harris spent three years as an intern and resident at MCV before completing her post-graduate training at the University of Rochester. She served on the School of Medicine faculty during the 1970s before becoming the first African American cabinet member in the Commonwealth of Virginia when Governor John Dalton appointed her Secretary of Human Resources in 1978. The National Governors’ Association recognized her work on the federal and state level by honoring her with the association’s distinguished service award in 1981. At the time of her death Harris was serving as mayor of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.