Dr. Harris is a native of the Old Dominion having been born in Cumberland County, Virginia on March 9, 1873. His father, Alexander Harris was a small farmer. He was a devout man, a deacon in the Baptist church and the founder of the Little Fork Baptist Church. He passed to his reward when the boy was only fourteen years of age. This bereavement led the boy to the Heavenly Father for comfort and he dates his conversion from about that time. He joined the home church which his father had founded. Four years later, his mother, Selina Harris joined his father and the boy thus completely orphaned had to make his own way. Earlier he had attended the public schools in Cumberland County. After the death of his father he went to Richmond, where he learned the baker's trade. He worked in the day and attended Y. M. C. A. night school in the evenings. Such was his record here that he won the scholarship medal. He saved his money and when ready for college went to Wayland Seminary at Washington for four years, combining literary and theological studies. He was licensed to preach by the Little Fork Baptist Church in 1897 and in 1898 was ordained by the same church.
On December 5, 1899, Dr. Harris married Miss Emma M. Tonsler, of Charlottesville, Va. She was educated at the Petersburg Normal and taught in Virginia schools prior to her marriage. They have two children, Nathaniel DeWitt and Leighton Elliott Harris.
Dr. Harris began his ministry in the home state. His first pastorate was the Ebenezer Church at Charlottesville, which he served three years and paid the debt. Since that time his work has been in West Virginia. His first pastorate was at Claremont, where he preached one year. He served the First Baptist Church at Fayetteville seven years and built a new house of worship. He preached at Alderson twelve years and has been at Ebenezer, Beckley, for the same length of time. He now gives full time to the Beckley Church. When he came to this work the congregation paid ten dollars a month, that they have grown in the grace of giving is shown by the fact that they now pay their pastor a hundred dollars a month, besides the other benevolences of the church. The membership has grown from 19 to 350. There was no house of worship at that time. Now there is a modern well appointed church and a parsonage hard by which is said to be the best parsonage of the denomination in the State. Soon after coming to the State Dr. Harris was for a while Principal of the Baptist School of Hill Top. When the brethren came to recognize his ability and the character of his work he was elected President of the Baptist State Convention in 1906, and has held that position continuously since. In 1918 he was elected chairman of the Advisory Council of Defense War Work among Negroes. In 1916 Virginia Union University conferred on him the D.D. degree. He has done a great deal of evangelistic work in which he has been successful. He is a Vice-President of the National Baptist Convention and among the secret orders is identified with the Odd Fellows and York Masons. Next after the Bible his favorite reading is history. He believes that the fundamentals of race progress root themselves in the home.
History of the American Negro Index
West Virginia History Center