Harold Salmon Jr. was a well-rounded community member in Harlem, known for his several roles in uplifting those around him. He was an athlete, educator, religious leader and civil rights activist among many other titles. Salmon died in January at the age of 92 and his sister, Irene Mays, wants him honored as an important figure to Black history.
Sports was a large part of Salmon’s life even up until his later years in life. He found himself interested in a multitude of athletics from skiing to basketball, in the latter of which he was considered by some to stand out as a “promising recruit” for the Knicks. Salmon was also a member of the Courtsmen Athletic Association, a professional basketball league that started in the Bronx and focuses on education advocacy. While sports were a meaningful part of Salmon’s life, much of his career was focused around being an educator and religious leader.
When asked if her brother pursued a career in education and religion due to the tumultuous events that preceded the Civil Rights Movement, Irene Mays said, “Daily matters in our history are current events. He was serving the greater good.”
After receiving a master’s in theology and another in education and guidance, it was all up from there for Harold Salmon. In 1968 Salmon served his first mass at his family’s church, St. Anthony of Padua in The Bronx and continued to spread the word of Christ as a religious leader and educator.
“He was assigned as the first Black-named pastor, not as a competitor, remaining humble as a learned participant and steadfast contributor in his priestly service,” said Mays.
In the late 1960s, Salmon accepted the position of vicariate delegate and he founded a youth initiative program at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem. Mays said her brother focused the program around Black history, art and dance, fostering a warm welcome for church folks around the Harlem community.
Salmon’s multi-faceted life, that included him being involved in civil rights action, saw his involvement at the March on Washington in 1963.
“Proud to be a part of the MLK Freedom March, he shared the live version of thousands of Black people who marched in courage for our righteous justice confronting a government that denied us,” said Mays. “He advocated challenging our rights for equal existence.”
With the recent emergence of protests that sparked in the country after the police death of George Floyd and several others in recent years, Mays said her brother would be pleased with the gains made by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Harold Salmon was proud of those who came before him and after him with self-awareness and ownership,” said Mays.
While Salmon adored the Black community of Harlem, he was ready to start a new chapter in 1995 with a move to Warrenton, North Carolina after his marriage to Hermenia Fitts Jackson. With the move south, Harold took with him his love for community engagement, continuing to be involved in his new local community. In North Carolina he volunteered for, served and led a number of organizations.
Despite all of the titles and positions Salmon represented, there was one title Harold Salmon held above all else.
“Harold Salmon Jr. always considered himself a Black man first, before a priest,” said Mays, who further describes her brother as a genuine, cheerful, and supportive gentleman. “He was a brother and father for those who didn’t have one. A man in your corner; a man in your heart.”
“Everyone always had great things to say about him because he was just the perfect person,” said Mabel Wilson, who would frequent basketball courts where Salmon used to play in his younger days. “He always treated people with respect, and you had no objective but to treat him with the highest respect.”