Hopewell names its downtown post office after late civil rights icon
HOPEWELL – Dr. Curtis W. Harris has been given many names during his lifetime, according to his daughter – “Uncle Buck” by his nieces and nephews, “Big Charlie” by the children at his church daycare and “His reverence. By members of his daughter’s gospel group.
“But the name we know him best by is ‘daddy’,” Dr Joanne Harris Lucas told a crowd of around 75 who gathered Thursday morning for a ceremony naming him at the center post office. -City of Hopewell. “Today we pay tribute to Curtis West Harris, our daddy.”
Harris, who died in 2017 at the age of 93, was a leader of the civil rights movement in Virginia and a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to founding the Virginia unit of the organization of King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Harris also lobbied for the Councilmanic neighborhood system in Hopewell, and would later serve not only on city council, but also as Hopewell’s first black mayor.
“He was a man among men,” said Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Virginia, who sponsored legislation last year to name the post office after Harris. In addition to his civil rights work in the South, McEachin said Harris “never forgot his home here,” noting how he fought to prevent a landfill from being landfilled in a neighborhood in predominantly black in the 1960s in addition to his political and religious work.
“His efforts have extended far beyond the civil rights movement,” McEachin said. “He was a champion of social justice, human rights issues and something close to my heart, environmental justice.
For the name change to be made, the entire Virginia congressional delegation had to sign McEachin’s bill. This meant that some crossing of dividing lines had to be done, which McEachin said made his bill even more poignant.
“Today’s ceremony is proof that we can still come together and get things done,” he said.
In his remarks, Lucas remembered not only the public figure but also the private father. Harris “had a genuine heart, a great sense of humor … and he was a great storyteller” whose stories always had little sessions of life delivered like a song “and never had the end”.
She shared a story where she said she needed to talk to Harris not as her father but as her pastor. The result, she added, was totally unexpected.
“I came home from college and had a problem that I wanted to discuss with my pastor,” Lucas recalls. “So I asked, and I made an appointment with him. I met him in his office at the church, his office. I walk in and he was sitting at his desk, and I start to share. my problem. Well, as soon as I started sharing it passed out. “
But Lucas said neither Harris nor anyone else in the family – who lovingly calls themselves the “Harris Connection” – would not have achieved what they did without his mother, Dr Ruth Jones Harris.
“She was smart. She was beautiful,” Lucas said. Her parents were married for 65 years until her mother died in 2011.
Of the six Harris children, five attended the ceremony. The sixth, Kenneth Harris, died two years ago.
Other members of the Harris family took part in the ceremony. Karen Harris Bradford sang “Amazing Grace” a capella and Michael B. Harris II performed the national anthem on trumpet.
After the speeches and songs, the Harris siblings joined Traci Miller, post office operations manager for Hopewell, in unveiling the plaque that was to be attached to the post office building after the ceremony.
Veteran reporter Bill Atkinson (he / him / her) is the Regional Daily News Coach for the USA TODAY Network’s Unified Southeast Region Core Group, which includes Virginia and North Carolina. He is based at the Progress-Index in Petersburg, Virginia. Contact Bill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BAtkinson_PI.