Donald Harris was born in New York, New York in 1940. He attended Rutgers College and graduated in 1963 with majors in English and Physical Education. At Rutgers, Harris was a member of the Air Force ROTC and also played football and lacrosse. He worked as a Civil Rights activist during his student days at Rutgers and, later, as a fieldworker for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Southwest Georgia in the early 1960s. In August 1963, he was arrested in Americus, Georgia, while trying to register African-American voters. Harris and two others were charged with insurrection, a capital offense in Georgia. The case stirred support on the Rutgers campus and across New Jersey in the Fall of 1963. Harris was released in November after a federal court declared the law under which he was charged to be unconstitutional. He went on to pursue graduate work at the City University of New York, Harvard Law School, and Columbia University. He worked for Philip Morris International Management and retired as the Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications.