Street to be named for Hopewell icon
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 17, 2014, 14:04
JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Terminal Street is shown at the intersection of Route 10 in Hopewell. It will be named for the Rev. Dr. Curtis Harris.
HOPEWELL — Terminal Street in the city of Hopewell will soon bear the name of the Rev. Dr. Curtis W. Harris, a long standing member of the community. Harris has marched alongside the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and held history in the city as the first African-American mayor. Now, his legacy will be honored with the street name change, a street where Harris lived and housed his heart and family.
Councilor Roosevelt Edwards led the charge to change the name of the street in the city. He has said at previous meetings it was something that should be done to honor Harris and all his contributions to the city. At the council meeting on Feb. 11, Edwards’ mission came to an end as council voted 5-to-2 to rename the street.
The story of Harris is not confined to his home on Terminal Street or his time serving on City Council. Harris is also honored for his time with King.
Harris’ story with King began in the 1960s when he became a member of the National Board of Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961 with King serving as president.
King soon became a large part of Harris’ life. King joined Harris in court in 1962 in regards an arrest Harris had in the city. In 1960, Harris was arrested for staging a sit-in at George’s Drugstore in Hopewell.
His work with the civil rights movement in the city was on a long and beaten path; Harris was arrested 13 times for civil disobedience. Though Harris was actively advocating for civil rights, there were some in the city who expressed their disdain for his work and his beliefs.
In 1967, a 20-foot cross was put in Harris’ yard and a creosol bomb was thrown through the living room, with a fuse that did not spark.
Apart from the attempted attacks, Harris never slowed with his presence in the city, even making sure his children moved forward and became an integral part in Hopewell’s history. In 1963, Harris’ eldest sons, Curtis Jr. and Kenneth became the first African-American students to attend an all-white Hopewell High School.
While the street will soon honor Dr. Harris and his strength that was shown during the civil rights movement, there were a couple council members who said most of the strength of Harris came from a person behind the scenes, his late wife Ruth Harris.
Councilor Brenda Pelham made the substitute motion to name the street Ruth and CW Harris Way, indicating she had spoken to some of his children who made it known the city had their support should their mother’s name be included as well.
“It might be one of the last times their mother is honored,” Pelham said. “Women always work behind the scenes in supporting a successful man. I grew up with the Harris family and I knew Ms. Ruth did a lot to make Dr. Harris the success that he has been. Think of your wives and mothers and think of how they have helped make you successful.”
Though Pelham expressed the thoughts of some members of the Harris family, the substitute motion failed with a vote of 3-to-4, with Vice-Mayor Jasmine Gore and Councilor Christina Luman-Bailey supporting the motion.
While Councilor Jackie Shornak said Ruth Harris was a strong supporter of her husband Dr. Harris, she said the street was for his honor.
“I think we need to stick to Rev. Harris Street because he was a councilman for many years and established icon in the city and I think this street is really for his benefit, not to say that Ruth Harris didn’t stick by him because she was a lovely woman and I do know she was with him for many years.”
Councilor Luman-Bailey spoke out against the name change of the street just for Dr. Harris, noting that since his children had become involved in the name change and expressed their wishes, she said council should take that into consideration, even recalling the support Ruth showed for her husband during his time on council.
Curtis Harris served on city council for 26 years after giving his resignation in March of 2012, amid health concerns as he had suffered a stroke in November of 2010, much impairing his ability to speak.
That strength and resistance Harris showed during the civil rights movement continued to his time serving on city council. He spent seven years fighting to get a seat representing Ward 2. One of the ways Harris made history in Hopewell was in 1998 when he was sworn in as the first African-American mayor of the city.
“When I first got on council Mrs. Harris was faithfully driving Mr. Harris to conferences and to meetings. She was most definitely a very, very involved wife,” Luman-Bailey said. “As far as his participation on City Council, she was there and did a lot to help him continue being on council.”
She also suggested the vote be postponed again to give Councilor Edwards more time to speak to Harris’ family. However, Edwards indicated he did in fact speak to the family already and they did not tell him about adding their late mother to the street name.
Councilor Wayne Walton said this was not the last time there will be an opportunity to honor the late Ruth Harris, indicating there are other ways the city can show their appreciation for the work she did in the city and the strength she gave Curtis Harris.
The street name will be changed after a vote of 5-to-2, with Pelham and Luman-Bailey voting against changing the name of Terminal Street to Rev CW Harris St.