Civil rights work
Curtis W. Harris' civil rights work began in 1950 with his stint as president of the Hopewell chapter of the NAACP. In 1960, he was arrested and sentenced to 60 days in jail for his role in a sit-in at segregated Georges' Drugstore in Hopewell, Virginia. Later in that year, he protested the segregation of the Hopewell swimming pool, which eventually led to the pool's closure. In 1966, Harris led a peaceful demonstration to prevent the building of a landfill in Hopewell's African American community; and was confronted by the Ku Klux Klan on the steps of city hall. Harris was arrested 13 times for civil disobedience during his years of involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1960, Harris helped to organize the Hopewell Improvement Association, an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was elected Vice President. He was named to the Board of Directors of the National SCLC in 1961 while Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was president. Also in 1961, Harris was cited for contempt by the Boatwright Committee of the Virginia General Assembly for not revealing the names of individuals associated with SCLC and not responding to the questions asked by the committee. On March 29, 1962, Dr. King along with more than 100 Virginia ministers and laymen accompanied Harris to his contempt trial (Boatwright Committee) in Hopewell.  He worked with Dr. King on multiple civil rights initiatives, including the March on Washington and the 50 mile march from Selma to Montgomery; and considered him as one of his mentors in the Civil Rights Movement. Harris served as president of the Virginia State Unit of SCLC from 1963–1998, and was elected the National SCLC Vice President in 2005.
In 1987, he led a march against discrimination in Colonial Heights, Virginia. In 1996, he filed a discrimination complaint against a Fort Lee, VA military unit. In 2007, Harris marched against a proposed ethanol plant being built in Hopewell with support from the national SCLC.
Other professional work
Curtis Harris was employed at Allied Chemical when he was ordained a Baptist minister in 1959, and First Baptist Church, Bermuda Hundred in Chester, VA was where he first served as a pastor and remained until 1969. In 1961, he was called to pastor at both Union Baptist Church in Hopewell, VA and Gilfield Baptist Church in Ivor, VA. Harris retired from Gilfield in 1994, and on December 16, 2007, he delivered his final sermon at Union Baptist after a 46-year pastorship.
As early as 1964, Harris ran for a seat on the Hopewell City Council. After seven attempts to be elected, he and many other like-minded residents moved the city of Hopewell to replace its longstanding at-large system with a ward system in 1983. Harris was finally elected to the Hopewell City Council (Ward 2) in 1986; in 1994 he was elected vice mayor; and in 1998, Harris was sworn in as the first African-American mayor of Hopewell. After 26 years of service to the city as well as to his constituents in Ward 2, Harris retired from his seat on the Hopewell City Council on March 1, 2012. 
On February 11, 2014, 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. The Street Sign Ceremony hosted by the Hopewell City Council was held at Union Baptist Church on June 15, 2014, 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, Mayor Michael Bujakowski, Vice Mayor Jasmine Guy, City Manager Michael Haley, Councilwoman Brenda Pelham, Councilwoman Jackie Shonak, State Senator Henry Marsh and Dr. Joanne Lucas, Dr. Harris’ daughter. Letters were read from Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Senator Mark Warner and U.S. Senator Timothy Kaine.
On July 1, 2017, Harris celebrated his 93rd birthday with family and friends at a program, "Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Curtis West Harris," hosted by Union Baptist Church where he is Pastor Emeritus.