Chronology

Selected Events in the Life of Curtis West Harris

1945

Student at Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA

1946

February 20: Married Ruth Jones of Hopewell, VA

1950

Elected president of the Hopewell chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

1954

Served as president of the Carter G. Woodson School Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in Hopewell;
Dr. Harris and the association were involved in recruiting Black teachers for Woodson

1956

July 13: Licensed as a minister at Union Baptist Church, Hopewell, VA by Dr. G. W. King, Pastor

Worshipful Master of Shiloh Masonic Lodge #33 (Prince Hall Affiliated) in Hopewell

Member of Grand United Order of Moses, Inc. - Hopewell No. 674; later elected president

1959

April 15: Ordained as a minister at Union Baptist Church, Hopewell, VA by Dr. G. W. King, Pastor

Called to pastor at First Baptist Church, Bermuda Hundred in Chesterfield, VA

1960

Resigned as a janitor at Allied Chemical in Hopewell to pursue his career in the gospel ministry

Organized the Hopewell Improvement Association (HIA), an affiliate of the 
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was elected vice president

Arrested* along with 75 others and sentenced to 60 days in jail for staging a sit-in at the segregated Georges' Drugstore in Hopewell---the charge was trespassing [*Dr. Harris was arrested 13 times for civil disobedience]

Protested against the segregated swimming pool and city-owned cemetery in Hopewell---
the swimming pool was closed and later filled in and cemented rather than integrate
and the city-owned cemetery was integrated

1961

Became a member of the National Board of SCLC while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was president; and accepted
Dr. King's nonviolent approach to fight racial and social injustice with the use passive resistance

Cited for contempt by the Boatwright Committee of the Virginia General Assembly for not revealing the
names of other SCLC members nor responding to the questions asked by the committee

Called to pastor at the Union Baptist Church in Hopewell, VA and the Gilfield Baptist Church in Ivor, VA

1962

March 29: Dr. King along with more than 100 Virginia ministers and laymen
accompanied Dr. Harris to his contempt trial (Boatwright Committee) in Hopewell

1963

Elected president of the Virginia State Unit of SCLC, and served until 1998

Worthy Patron in the Lily of the Valley Chapter #44 of the Order of Eastern Star (Prince Hall Affiliated) in Hopewell 

Led a march against discrimination and was arrested in Danville, VA---the charge was inciting people to riot

Summer: Dr. Harris' two sons, Curtis, Jr. and Kenneth, became the first Black students
to attend the all White Hopewell High School 

August 28: Marched with Dr. King in the March on Washington and witnessed the delivery of 
the "I Have A Dream" speech that inspired the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act---
and was accompanied by his sons, Curtis, Jr. and Kenneth

September 24 - 27: As president of the VA State Unit of SCLC, hosted the Seventh Annual SCLC Conference
at Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA 

1964

May 10: Announced his candidacy for a seat on the Hopewell City Council 

Became the director of the Virginia Council on Human Relations

1965

March 7 - 25: Marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery (a 54 mile trek) in support
of the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; acted as a human shield for Dr. King during the march

July 2 - 3: The VA State Unit of SCLC hosted its first annual convention in Petersburg, VA
with Dr. King as the keynote speaker; Dr. King called for an end to the war in Vietnam and Dr. Milton Reid,
a VA SCLC official, 
criticized the Byrd Machine in reference to VA's upcoming gubernatorial election

1966

August: A confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan on the steps of Hopewell's city hall during a peaceful 
demonstration led by Dr. Harris to prevent the building of a landfill in Rosedale, a Black Hopewell community; despite the opposition of Black Hopewellians, the landfill was established in Rosedale

1967

Cross erected in Dr. Harris' yard, but it did not burn

A bottle bomb thrown through the picture window of Dr. Harris' home, and through the
window of his restaurant, Harris' Snack Bar---neither bomb exploded

Sent a telegram to Gov. Mills E. Godwin requesting protection after three terrorist attacks on his home

1968

Assisted with the coordination of the Poor People's Campaign in Washington D.C. 
as a means of uniting people who have a common plight, regardless of race

Promoted a self-help program, with the support of SCLC,  in the Wye area of Waverly, VA; the Wye was an impoverished Black area with no water, no gas, no indoor toilets, makeshift electrical lines, and many illiterate residents

Selected to serve on the Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 
which addressed the federal role in the desegregation of public schools

April 4: Dr. King assassinated in Memphis, TN

April 9: Attended Dr. King's funeral in Atlanta, GA 

1969

Testified before a Congressional Committee on Hunger in Virginia

Arrested after being beaten in Suffolk, VA for protesting discrimination

Resigned as pastor of First Baptist Church, Bermuda Hundred in Chesterfield, VA after 10 years of service

President of Hopewell Ministerial Association

1971

Outstanding Citizenship Award (Virginia Council on Social Welfare)

Citizen of the Year Award (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Delta Omega Chapter)

Outstanding Services and Deeds to Mankind (Gilfield Baptist Church, Ivor, VA)

Outstanding Services Rendered (Union Baptist Church, Hopewell, VA)

Man of the Year Award (National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women, Petersburg, VA Chapter)

April: Along with this wife, Ruth J. Harris, they became advisors for a community youth gospel group, the Flames of Glory

July 4: Dr. Ralph D. Abernathy, national SCLC president spoke in honor of Dr. Harris at Gilfield Baptist Church in Ivor, VA

1972

Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the Virginia University of Lynchburg, Lynchburg, VA

1978

Dedicated Service Award (President, Board of Visitors, and Faculty of Virginia State University)

Parade Marshall for the Hopewell Christmas parade

1979

Reorganized the Virginia State Unit of the SCLC

August 14 - 17: Hosted the 22nd National SCLC Convention at New Calvary Baptist Church in Norfolk, VA

1981

Rosa Parks Award (SCLC, National Board)

Inspirational Award (SCLC, Virginia State Unit)

A member of the board of directors for The Community Action Program for Reading, Inc. in Hopewell, VA funded by Reading is FUNdamental (RIF), Inc., a national non-profit organization designed to motivate students to read by making inexpensive books available to children

1982

Centennial Community Recognition Award (SCLC, Virginia State Unit)

Certificate of Appreciation (Floyd E. Kellam High School, Virginia Beach, VA)

Community Spirit Award (Tabernacle Baptist Church, Petersburg, VA)

Citizen of the Year (Petersburg Consistory #144, 32 "833" Masons)

1983

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award (SCLC, Virginia State Unit)

Alumni Award (Carter G. Woodson High School Alumni, Hopewell, VA)

Forced Hopewell to replace its longstanding at-large system for electing city council members with a ward system

Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from the Virginia University of Lynchburg, Lynchburg, VA

1984

Recognition of Excellence (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

Majestic Leader Award (The Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, Landover, MD)

1986

Elected to the Hopewell City Council after seven attempts (began running for the Hopewell City Council as early as 1964) due to the establishment of the ward system established in 1983

1987

Led a march in Colonial Heights, VA against discrimination

1989

Outstanding Achievement Award (Citizens of Hopewell)

1990

Marched on Ft. Lee against discriminatory practices in employment

Support of Children Award (Hopewell School Board)

August 6: As president of the Virginia State Unit of SCLC hosted the 33rd National SCLC Convention in Richmond, VA

1992

Unmatched Determination Award (SCLC, National Board)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity)

Appreciation Award (SCLC, Emporia/Greenville Chapter)

1994

Elected vice mayor of Hopewell

Resigned as pastor of Gilfield Baptist Church, Ivor, VA after 33 years of service

1995

Certificate of Service (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights)

Lifetime Service to Fellowmen Award (Surry County Citizens Forum)

1996

Filed complaint with the TRADOC, the command center for Ft. Lee, and identified the
discrimination as an example of "what's going on in the United States Army" across the nation

1998

July 7: Sworn in as the first Black mayor of the City of Hopewell, VA

The "Real Dream" Award (Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Life Institute)

Resigned as president of the Virginia State Unit of SCLC

2000

February 2: American Century Award (The Washington Times Foundation)

2001

Selected to be a Dominion Strong Men & Women: Excellence in Leadership

2003

February 27: Interviewed by Brian Ward for the University of Florida Oral
History Program for the Southern Regional Council Project

March 20: Interviewed by Media Consultants Global, Inc. of Richmond to be included in the
Voices of Freedom, the videotaped oral histories of leaders in the Civil Rights Movement in VA;
the oral histories are a part of the Virginia Commonwealth University Digital Library

2002

Commissioned Paul DiPasquale to work with the Martin Luther King Foundation of Hopewell, VA to design and produce a bronze monument in honor of Dr. King’s historic civil rights visit to the Hopewell courthouse on March 29, 1962

2004

April: Ceremony to unveil the completed bronze statue erected to Dr. King in Ashford Plaza in front of the 
courthouse in downtown Hopewell; Martin Luther King III attended the ceremony

July 10: Honored on his 80th birthday at the Marriott in Richmond during which the superintendent of Hopewell Public Schools announced that the Carter G. Woodson Middle School Library would be dedicated to and named for Dr. Harris

2005

Elected National Vice President of SCLC

March: Attended the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March in Alabama

2006

Secured a $3000 grant from the R.G. Reynolds Foundation
to support a National SCLC membership drive

2007

February 20: Public Life Unveiled, a program sponsored by Hopewell Public Schools, to reveal a showcase in the Curtis W. Harris, Sr. Library in Carter G. Woodson Middle School; the showcase highlighted the public life of Dr. Harris

Marched against a proposed ethanol factory being built in Hopewell, VA; protest was supported
by the National SCLC with the presence of its president, Charles K. Steele, Jr.

December 16: Retired as pastor of Union Baptist Church after 46 years of service;
Gov. Timothy Kaine was keynote speaker for the retirement banquet, Rev. Stephen Hewlett
officiated the service where Dr. Harris delivered his final sermon, and the Flames of Glory reunited to render the music

2008

April 25 & 26: Attended the Civil Rights, Civil Duties in the Pursuit of Family, Happiness &
Peace Conference and Prayer Breakfast 
at Howard University in Washington D.C. 

2009

May: The C. W. Harris Empowerment Center (CWHEC), a non-profit organization, was established 
to spread the love of God and to meet human need through a series of free workshops on various topics

July 25: CWHEC hosted an empowerment workshop entitled Know Your Rights on the Job with
Herbert Brown, director of the Norfolk office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as expert guest

September 11: The Dr. Curtis W. Harris Solidarity Lunch opens the 19th annual Southeast Community Day Parade and Festival in Newport News, VA; festivities were organized and implemented by Andrew Shannon

September 19: CWHEC hosted an empowerment workshop entitled Know Your Rights-Part II 
with Rudy McCullom, a Richmond attorney, as expert guest

November 7: CWHEC hosted an empowerment workshop for teenagers entitled Why Go To College with an
expert panel that included Karen D. Harris, Lavern Myrick-Simms, and Rex Patterson

2010

May 4: Relected to the Hopewell City Council after 24 years in office

2011

January 22: Lauded during the Unity Ride and Rally, organized by Andrew Shannon,
that began in Newport News, VA and concluded in Hopewell

January 21 & 22: Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution commending Dr. Harris
as one Virginia's most celebrated religious, social, civic, and political leaders

May 22: Ruth Jones Harris, Dr. Harris' wife, passed away after 65 years of marriage

July 23: Dr. Curtis W. Harris and Ruth Jones Harris Day: Feeding 5000 and Community Celebration
organized by Andrew Shannon honored Dr. Harris and his late wife, Ruth

September: Henry McCoy of Petersburg, James Moore of Hopewell and Iris Walker of Hopewell added to the CWHEC Board of Directors; Dr. Harris remained president of the non-profit organization and
Joanne Lucas became secretary-treasurer

2012

January 19: Attended the 2012 Strong Black Men/Women festivities at the Marriott in Richmond

January 24: Attended President Obama's State of the Union Address in Washington D.C. 
on an invitation from Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)

February 4: CWHEC hosted an empowerment workshop entitled Felony Disfranchisement: Regaining the Right to Vote
with Rick Newman, the Hopewell Commonwealth's Attorney, and Theodore Hawkins, a convicted felon 
who regained his voting rights, as expert guests

February 25 & 26: Honored at Black History Month programs in Petersburg and Dinwiddie, VA

March 1: Retired from the Hopewell City Council after 26 years of service

July 1: Celebrated his 88th birthday in the home of his son/daughter-in-law, Kenneth/Renate, with family and friends

July 27: Honored by the Bethany Baptist Association and Allied Bodies at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Petersburg, VA for 45 years of service to the organization in the roles of secretary, Vice Moderator, Moderator, and Executive Director

September: Dr. Harris dissolved, CWHEC, his non-profit organization

2013

January 30: Attended the 2013 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History festivities at the
Marriott in Richmond accompanied by Mrs. Iris Walker, a family friend

May 17: Attended the graduation of his daughter, Joanne, who received her PhD from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA 

May 21: Attended the May Day Assembly at Hopewell High School to observe the giving of the 
2013 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation, Inc. Scholarship

July 1: Celebrated his 89th birthday with family and friends

July 6: Attended the Wyche, Jones, Tharpe Family Reunion (Ruth's family) in Hopewell, VA 

August 28: Attended the Let Freedom Ring Ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate
the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom accompanied
by his son, Michael, and his grandsons, Bodie and Loc

November 17: Attended the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Gilfield Baptist Church in Ivor, VA where he pastored for 33 years from 1961 to 1994; he was accompanied by his daughter, Joanne 

2014

January 2: The papers and other historical materials of Curtis and Ruth Harris were donated to the Earl Gregg Swem Library at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA by their children

February 5: Attended the 2014 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History festivities at the 
Marriott in Richmond accompanied by Mrs. Iris Walker, a family friend

February 6-13: Was given a Facebook tribute by his son, Michael, in a series entitled: 
“DR. CURTIS W. HARRIS, SR.: MY Father, MY Hero, MY Friend,” in celebration of Black History Month

February 11: The Hopewell City Council voted to rename Terminal Street, Rev. C. W. Harris Street; for 57 years, Curtis and Ruth Harris lived at 209 Terminal Street, a street in Hopewell which now bears his name; the council also voted to rename Booker Street (which intersects Terminal), Ruth Harris Way in honor of Curtis’ late wife, Ruth

June 15: The Street Sign Ceremony hosted by the Hopewell City Council was held at Union Baptist Church to pay tribute to Rev. Dr. Curtis W. Harris and his late wife, Dr. Ruth J. Harris; Herbert Bragg, Hopewell’s Director of Intergovernmental and Public Affairs was master of ceremony, music was rendered by the Harris Connection Singers and statements were made by Dr. Anthony Nutt, Union Baptist pastor, Mayor Michael Bujakowski, Vice Mayor Jasmine Guy, City Manager Michael Haley, Councilor Brenda Pelham, Councilor Jackie Shonak, State Senator Henry Marsh and Dr. Joanne Lucas, Rev. Harris’ daughter; letters were read from Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Senator Mark Warner and U.S. Senator Timothy Kaine; and the ceremony concluded with unveiling the new street signs followed by refreshments in the church fellowship hall

July 1: Celebrated his 90th birthday with family and friends

2015

January 19: Spoke at Brighter Living Assisted Living where he is a resident for the celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; shared memories of the 50 mile march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights in 1965

March 4: Highlighted at the Radio One Incorporated Virginia Legends Luncheon held in the Virginia War Memorial located at 621 S. Belvidere Street, Richmond, VA 23220 to educate students and the community about Dr. Harris’ work of paving the way for a better education system, justice system and civil rights for all people.

June 20: The Harris Connection hosted a Father’s Day Celebration at the Hampton Inn in Hopewell, VA with food catered by Mr. B’s; the celebration paid tribute to Dr. Harris and all of the daddies in the family

July 1: Celebrated his 91st birthday with family and friends

2016

January 20: Presented the Lifetime Leadership Award by the Children’s Home of Virginia Baptist, Inc.

July 1: Celebrated his 92nd birthday with family and friends

August 13: Attended the Wyche, Jones, Tharpe “Throw Back Picnic” (Ruth’s Family) at Hadad’s Lake in Henrico, VA

November 24: Celebrated Thanksgiving with his family at The Crossings at Ironbridge in Chester, VA where he is a resident; the festive occasion was planned and implemented by his grandchildren, Dee and Crystal

2017

February 25: Attended “It’s A Family Affair” at Union Baptist Church in celebration of Black History Month the church’s 100th Anniversary, and the Flames of Glory reunited to render the music 

© Joanne Lucas 2017