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Tribal ally remembered for influential work

Historian Harry Kersey Jr., who had a close connection to the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes, died Nov. 7 at his home in Boca Raton at age 86.

Kersey was widely recognized as an expert on the history and culture of Florida’s Native Peoples, and he worked with tribal leadership in various capacities.

Paul Backhouse, the senior director of the Heritage and Environment Resources Office (HERO) for the Seminole Tribe, said he informed Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. of Kersey’s death and also reached out to his wife of 62 years, Ruth Dyer Kersey.

“I expressed the sorrow of the whole tribe in hearing the news,” Backhouse said. “[She] recalled Harry’s last trip out to Big Cypress and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum four years ago when he gave a [scholarly] paper to many of his friends at the tribe that he hadn’t seen for some years.”

Harry Kersey Jr. (Courtesy photo)

Kersey wrote extensively on issues affecting Indigenous People in general and the Seminole Tribe, specifically – 11 books and 75 scholarly articles and book chapters. He consulted with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes during the development of their respective governmental structures decades ago and at the request of the Seminole Tribe, he served on the Florida Governors Council on Indian Affairs from 1978 to 1988. Kersey also assisted the tribe on its federal land claims and water rights cases.

Backhouse noted one of Kersey’s influential books – “An Assumption of Sovereignty: Social and Political Transformation Among the Florida Seminoles,” which covers the years from 1953 to 1979.

“Which is one of the most important works of its kind,” Backhouse said.

Another of his profound works, Backhouse said, is “Buffalo Tiger: A Life in the Everglades,” which he coauthored with legendary Miccosukee leader Buffalo Tiger. His most recent book, which he coauthored, was published in 2010: “Seminole Voices, Reflections on their Changing Society, 1970-2000.”

Kersey also taught in the history department at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton until his retirement in 2003.

“We are sad to announce the recent passing of professor emeritus Harry Kersey,” the department posted on its Facebook page soon after his death. “He was an eminent scholar of Seminole and Indigenous histories, an inspiring teacher, and a beloved colleague.”

According to his obituary, Kersey was born in Jacksonville in 1935. He attended Landon High School in Jacksonville and received multiple degrees from the University of Florida in Gainesville and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Kersey also served in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer from 1958 to 1961.

Along with his wife, Kersey is survived by daughters Karen Kersey Wynne and Laura Lynn Kersey, sons-in-law Michael Wynne and Joseph Mir, and granddaughter Shaina Nicole Kersey Wynne.

A memorial service was scheduled to take place Nov. 20 at the Glick Funeral Home in Boca Raton.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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