On New Year's night of 1965, Sophia Bracy Harris and her family narrowly escaped death when a fire bomb burned their rural Alabama home to ashes, incinerating most of their personal belongings. The local community rallied to the aid of her parents and eight sisters and brothers with food, clothing and temporary shelter.
Harris, now 28, said she has never forgotten the sense of community displayed during the incident. She is now making a career out of helping communities across the state of Alabama to pool their resources in the operation of community-controlled child care centers.
Yesterday, Harris was among seven persons who received Rockefeller Public Service Awards for extraordinary achievements in fields that ranged from resource conservation to urban revitalization efforts to a system to provide low-cost health services and minority child care.
The Rockefeller Public Service Awards program, begun in 1952 by John D. Rockefeller III, honored only outstanding individuals in federal careers until 1976, when persons with both public and private achievements first were considered for the $10,000 awards. The cash is shared in cases in which two persons are selected.
At a luncheon yesterday at the Mayflower Hotel, two Chicago community leaders - Julian H. Levi and Arthur Brazier - Jointly received an award for their individual efforts to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods near the University of Chicago.
Levi, 68, brother of former U.S. Attorney General Edward H. Levi, is professor of urban studies at the universtiy and executive director of the South East Chicago Commission. He was cited for his efforts in guiding the Hyde Park-Kenwood community of Chicago through successful urban renewal.
Brazier, 56, a church pastor and founder in 1961 of TWO (The Woodlawn Organization) was cited for his outstanding leadership of the $3 million a year community development corporation, which serves as a national prototype for grassroots organizing.
Dr. John Runyan Jr., 53, of Memphis, Tenn., was selected to receive an award for his outstanding work in the area of "promotion of health, improved delivery of health services, and control of health costs."
In 1963, before decentralized primary health care became a national question, Dr. Runyan devised a system for reaching the largely poor, elderly and minority population of Memphis with high-quality health care. He currently is chairman of the Department of Community Medicine and director of Health Care Sciences at the University of Tennessee Medical School.
M. King Hubbert, noted geologist and geophysicist, received an award for his contributions in the area of "conservation and development of natural resources and protection of the environment."
Hubbert, 73, who is retired from the U.S. Geological Survey, predicted as early as 1956 that the United States would reach its maximum production of oil around 1970, that production and discovery rates of petroleum and gas would decline rapidly thereafter and that there would be an eventual scarcity.
Howard Rowley, 50, manager of urban affairs and customer relations at the Rochester, N.Y., Gas and Electric Corporation, was cited for his effective mediation of a 1974 dispute between the state of New York and Mohawk Indians over land rights.
Rowley is credited with creating the mechanism that ultimately was used to settle the dispute between New York and a group of Mohawks who had forcefully taken over a tract of state-owned land.
Frieda R. Mitchell, 52, of Beaufort, S.C., and Harris, now of Mongomery. Ala., jointly received a Rockefeller Award for individual achievement for their work as child care advocates.
Mitchell was reorganized for her role in organizing community-based, community-controlled child care centers across the state of South Carolina and in communities throughout the South.
The award cites Mitchell, executive director of the Communities for Child Development program, as "a tireless worker for the improvement of life among black residents, especially children in South Carolina . . ."
Harris was recognized "for serving as the primary moving force in establishing and developing a statewide system of child care in Alabama."
Shortly after she graduated from Auburn University in 1972, Harris helped to organize the Federation of Community Controlled Child Care Centers in Alabama (FOCAL), an umbrella organization that provides support services for 79 child care centers in 37 Alabama countries.