Rev. Dr. Curtis West Harris, Sr. was born on July 1, 1924, to the late Thelma and Sandy Harris in Surry County, Virginia. He was raised in Hopewell, Virginia and educated in its public schools. After graduating from Carter G. Woodson High School, he continued his education at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. Other education experiences included obtaining a certificate in Clinical Training for Pastors from the Medical College of Virginia; studying at the Urban Training Center for Christian Missions in Chicago, Illinois; and completing other studies at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia. Rev. Harris has also received two honorary degrees from the Virginia University of Lynchburg in Lynchburg, Virginia. Although Rev. Harris' childhood was spent in poverty, he was taught early in life the importance of sharing with those who were less fortunate. This sharing factor and the unselfishness exemplified by his mother were influential in his call to the ministry and to the role he continues to play in the liberation of his people.
In 1959, the late Dr. G. W. King and the Union Baptist Church in Hopewell ordained Rev. Harris into the ministry. He began his spiritual call at First Baptist Church, Bermuda Hundred in Chesterfield, Virginia where he was pastor for ten years. He also led the congregation at Gilfield Baptist Church, Ivor, Virginia for thirty-three years; and preached his last sermon as pastor of Union Baptist on Sunday, December 16, 2007 after forty-six years as minister. During his ministry, Rev. Harris preached an estimated 3,156 sermons, baptized around 900 people, married about 391couples, christened more than 650 babies, and eulogized at more than 278 funerals.
A strong social, political, and religious consciousness led Rev. Harris to affiliate with and hold office in the following organizations: Hopewell Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), President; Carter G. Woodson PTA, President; Hopewell Ministerial Association, President/Secretary; National Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Vice President; Virginia State Unit of SCLC, President; Moses Life Insurance Association, President; Shiloh Lodge #33 (Prince Hall Affiliated), Worshipful Master; Union Baptist Sunday School, Teacher/Superintendent; Lily of the Valley Chapter #44 (Order of Eastern Star), Worthy Patron; Virginia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Vice Chairman; Bethany Baptist Association and Allied Bodies, Moderator/Executive Director; Virginia State University Non-Boarding Students, Counselor; Virginia Council on Human Relations, State Coordinator; and Hopewell City Council, Vice Mayor/Mayor.
Rev. Harris was the first African American to serve as mayor of Hopewell, and he retired from his seat on the Hopewell City Council on March 1, 2012 after 26 years of service. He is Pastor Emeritus of the Union Baptist Church and President of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization that offers college scholarships to qualifying students in Hopewell, Virginia and vicinity.
Ruth Jones Harris, his loving wife of sixty-five years, passed away on May 22, 2011. Rev. Harris continues to reside in Hopewell with the support of his six children: Curtis, Jr. (Newnan, GA), Kenneth (Hopewell, VA), Michael (Ft. Washington, MD), Joanne (Virginia Beach, VA), Karen (Fayetteville, GA), and Michelle (Upper Marlboro, MD). The Harris Connection (as the family is proudly called) also includes three daughter-in-laws, two son-in-laws, 22 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.
Through the years, Rev. Harris' persistence as a courageous veteran in the war against racial and social injustice has prevailed. He has been described as possessing an open heart that is touched by the needs of all humanity. His tireless effort, humanitarian spirit, and unwavering determination are captured in the lyrics of Rev. Harris' favorite Negro spiritual: If I can help somebody as I pass along. If I can cheer somebody with a word or a song. If I can show somebody they're traveling wrong. Then my living shall not be in vain.