By Kia Croom
Community icon, church leader and entrepreneur Mother Novalean Harris died on Jan. 11 of natural causes. She was 95 years old. Her memorial was held Jan. 20 at Hilltop Community Church.
Mother Harris is remembered for her involvement in the community and her church. A dedicated and dependable leader, she participated in many church auxiliaries and served in a variety of capacities including serving as the first vice president of the Women Missionary Union, participating in the Bochum Five Singers, organizing the church’s food and clothing giveaway program and supervising the soup kitchen.
Mother Harris was also an accomplished businessman. She aspired to become an entrepreneur and took interest in the field of cosmetology. She enrolled at Charm Beauty College in Oakland, earning a cosmetology license. She opened Novalean’s Beauty Salon, the first Black-owned beauty salon in North Richmond.
She eventually moved the salon to its present location, 401 Harbor St. She served as a mentor and inspired other aspiring cosmetologists to open their own salons.
Harris was born in Bernice, Louisiana. At the age of 5, her family moved to El Dorado, Arkansas, where she attended school and eventually met her husband George H. Harris and started a family.
The couple relocated to Richmond in 1943, seeking opportunities and a better way of life. They joined North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church under the leadership of the late Rev. F.W. Watkins. She immediately took to the church and became actively involved in its ministries.
Mother Harris was well known among many local and state political candidates who she supported with advice, good food and fundraising efforts. The City of Richmond declared May 1, 2008, “Mother Novalean Harris Day.” A special bench with her name was engraved and placed in front of the North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church in her honor.
Mother Harris is survived by her youngest son Rev. James Harris; daughter Carolyn Smith-James; her six grandchildren, Charlotte Allen, Cynthia Cotton, Robert D. Smith, James R. Harris Jr., Catheryn Richardson and Jama Harris; eight great-grandchildren; 1 great-great grandchild; and many nieces, nephews and extended family members.