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Harrell Spruill

Philanthropist and educator Harrell Solomon Spruill has established programs to help young people build vocational skills for a successful life path. Spruill was born in Travis, North Carolina on August 18, 1924, to Solomon, a farmer and Georgiana, a homemaker. Spruill and his nine siblings grew up on a thirteen acre farm which his father owned. Growing up, Spruill was painfully shy and throughout his youth Spruill’s closest friends were his siblings.

Spruill graduated from Tyrell County Training School in Columbia, North Carolina in 1940. Inspired by his sister’s college degree, Spruill was determined to attend the Hampton Institute. After high school, Spruill deferred for a year to work in a wood mill to raise money for tuition. Spruill also had a work study position, and though he was thankful to have the opportunity, he longed to be a “regular” college student. In 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy where he worked as a diesel mechanic and rose to the rank of Fireman First Class and Motor Machinist Second Class. Though he saw no combat, Spruill was incredibly successful in the Navy because it allowed him to practice the values his parents instilled in him, that of education and hard work.

Following his time in the service, Spruill returned to Hampton more self assured and eager to become involved with extra-curricular activities. He joined the Omicron Social Club, and was a two time division-champion wrestler. In 1949, Spruill received his certificate in the automobile and diesel mechanics program. After returning from a training program in Chicago, Spruill saw the disrepair the farm had fallen into since his father’s death and stayed to return the farm back functional. He received his B.S. degree from Hampton in 1952. That same year, Spruill taught at Alcorn University in Mississippi. He remained there for two years. Later, he took a position at Wiley H. Bates High School in Annapolis, Maryland, where he taught industrial arts in the Anne Arundel County school system for twenty-nine years.

In 1956, under the advisement of a close friend, Spruill bought fifteen acres of land. To make his loan payments on a teacher’s salary, Spruill lived in boarding houses and cooked his own meals. Another example of his resourcefulness, Spruill had his students serviced neighborhood cars to raise funds for classroom supplies. In 1987, the State of Maryland bought his land to build a new road. With the profit from the sale, Spruill and his siblings established a scholarship in their parents’ names. The following year, Spruill bought another piece of land on Tracy’s Landing, so he could run farm programs for inner city school children. With the land that he purchased, he formed partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club and African American fraternities to use his surplus crops for fundraisers. Spruill started the Har-Pearl Foundation in 2003. Co-named after his late wife of thirty-two years, Pearl, the organization donates to various causes. Spruill is married to Annetta Spruill, and they reside on the farm at Tracy’s Landing. He has two children with Pearl: Kevin and Kecia; three grandchildren: Sarah Spruill, Jazlyn and Myles Johnson; and one step-son: Jay Pittman (Annetta’s son).

Spruill was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 26, 2008.

Harrell Spruill passed away on December 6, 2012.

Accession Number

A2008.094

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/26/2008

Last Name

Spruill

Maker Category
Middle Name

Solomon

Schools

Tyrell County Training School

Travis Elementary School

Hampton University

First Name

Harrell

Birth City, State, Country

Travis

HM ID

SPR02

Favorite Season

None

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

He Who Has, More Shall Be Added Unto It. He Who Has Not, That He Seem To Have Had Shall Be Taken Away.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

8/18/1924

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

12/6/2012

Short Description

High school industrial arts teacher Harrell Spruill (1924 - 2012 ) was the founder of the Har-Pearl Foundation, which provided inner city youth with the opportunity to learn about farm life.

Employment

Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College

Wiley H. Bates High School

Favorite Color

Red

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Harrell Spruill's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Harrell Spruill lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Harrell Spruill describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Harrell Spruill remembers attending the Chapel Hill Baptist Church in Columbia, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Harrell Spruill talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Harrell Spruill recalls changing his name to Harrell

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Harrell Spruill describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Harrell Spruill talks about his family's farm in Travis, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Harrell Spruill describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Harrell Spruill describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Harrell Spruill describes his home in Travis, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Harrell Spruill describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Harrell Spruill describes the kitchen in his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Harrell Spruill describes his siblings and their education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Harrell Spruill recalls his summer employment

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Harrell Spruill recalls his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Harrell Spruill describes a typical day on his family's farm, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Harrell Spruill describes a typical day on his family's farm, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Harrell Spruill remembers his father's influence

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Harrell Spruill recalls attending Travis Elementary School in Travis, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Harrell Spruill recalls his early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Harrell Spruill describes his academic experiences at the Tyrrell County Training School in Columbia, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Harrell Spruill remembers his father's discipline

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Harrell Spruill recalls joining the New Farmers of America

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Harrell Spruill recalls his father's personality

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Harrell Spruill describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Harrell Spruill recalls his time as a saw mill worker

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Harrell Spruill recalls his first year at the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Harrell Spruill remembers being drafted into the U.S. Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Harrell Spruill recalls his treatment at the Naval Station Great Lakes, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Harrell Spruill recalls his treatment at the Naval Station Great Lakes, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Harrell Spruill talks about the entertainment at the Naval Station Great Lakes

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Harrell Spruill describes the racial discrimination in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Harrell Spruill talks about his promotions in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Harrell Spruill remembers the atomic bombing of Japan

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Harrell Spruill recalls returning to the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Harrell Spruill recalls his financial support of his siblings' education

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Harrell Spruill recalls his mentors at the Hampton Institute

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Harrell Spruill remembers his estrangement from his father, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Harrell Spruill remembers his estrangement from his father, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Harrell Spruill recalls taking care of his family farm

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Harrell Spruill remembers teaching at the Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lorman, Mississippi, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Harrell Spruill remembers teaching at the Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lorman, Mississippi, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Harrell Spruill recalls leaving the Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Harrell Spruill remembers his first wife, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Harrell Spruill remembers his first wife, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Harrell Spruill describes his teaching career in Maryland

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Harrell Spruill recalls the desegregation of the public school system

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Harrell Spruill recalls purchasing land in Annapolis, Maryland

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Harrell Spruill recalls buying a farm in Anne Arundel County, Maryland

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Harrell Spruill recalls the urban development of Anne Arundel County, Maryland

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Harrell Spruill recalls his retirement from the Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Harrell Spruill remembers marrying his second wife

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Harrell Spruill recalls the launch of his student farm, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Harrell Spruill recalls the launch of his student farm, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Harrell Spruill describes his involvement with Sojourner Douglass College in Edgewater, Maryland

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Harrell Spruill talks about the Har-Pearl Spruill Foundation, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Harrell Spruill describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Harrell Spruill reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Harrell Spruill talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Harrell Spruill reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Harrell Spruill talks about his third wife

Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Harrell Spruill describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

6$2

DATitle
Harrell Spruill describes a typical day on his family's farm, pt. 1
Harrell Spruill remembers teaching at the Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lorman, Mississippi, pt. 2
Transcript
Let me go back a little bit to growing up. Can you give me an idea of--this is such a different life than people lead today. Can you give me an idea of what your typical day was as a, as a, as a youth, you know, growing up on the farm [in North Carolina]? When would you get up, and, and then what--say it's a school day. Just tell me what you would do.$$Well, since I was sort of the--I was depended upon, on the family to make the fires, I would get up sometimes around four o'clock in the morning and make the fires and make sure that everybody was comfortable by the time they got out of the bed. Then during the, the, the wintertime (unclear)--wintertime, of course, naturally, depends on what you were doing that day. My father [Solomon Spruill, Jr.] used to kill hogs, you know. If it was the day that we're gonna kill hogs, I would also go out on the wood pile and make sure that the fire was made for the pots and whatnot. And of course, so when the men start to killing the hogs they would have hot water. And after you've done all those things, you get ready to go back. I mean I would I get ready to go to school and to walk to school.$$About what time would that be now?$$Oh, you, you give yourself at least a hour and a half to two hours to walk the three, three miles to school.$$I mean, so when, when--$$So--$$--when would--about what time did you start walking? Or, what, what, what time--$$I would imagine--$$--did you have to be at school? Okay.$$--about seven o'clock.$$Okay, 'cause you had to be at school by what time?$$Eight o'clock.$$By eight, okay.$$Eight or 8:30, something--$$All right.$$--like that had to be there. And of course, I would make sure that--and of course, my, my brother, Albert [Albert Spruill], used to also go along, and Eva [Eva Spruill Pope], until she finished high--the three of us you walked together to school. And of course, walking, we would also pick up other children. Other children would be walking to the school.$$Okay, so you like--you all would walk and talk and--on the way--$$Right, talk and whatnot.$$Okay, on the way to school.$$And coming back, after school was out, we walking together, you are also concerned about when you came home, my father used to always make it a point to make sure that you had work to do. If you--he hadn't assigned you work, you should find some work to do. And of course, he usually has work planned for you. And we would--in the wintertime--we would go out in the woods. And in the woods there, there's a lot of dark soil. And we used to rake up the soil and pile it up for a compost. And that's when the, the mules and you can take the, the stable, the stuff from the stables and pour out there on the compost. Then you take the, the dirt from the trees and whatnot, the soil, the rich soil, and put on the compost. And by the spring of year that compost is way up there pretty, pretty big because you've been out there every day after school and built that compost up. And that was your job. You found something to do.$$Okay, about when did school let out?$$School was--$$About what time did school--$$--let out I suppose about three o'clock was the typical time. Of course--$$And so, in, in the wintertime it'd be dark when you (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well--$$--get off--$$--you find yourself time (laughter) go out there and do something, do something.$$Even in the dark, huh?$$Yeah, even in the dark, yeah, yeah, 'cause the first thing he would do is ask, "What have you done today?" When he came home. That was his--, "What have you done today?" Now, my father, even though he was a farmer, he had work at most of the white far- people's farm either digging ditches or killing hogs. He was very good at killing hogs. And he knew how, what to do, and whatnot. And they used to give him a lot of the meats that they, you know, that they didn't eat, because it's a funny thing about the white culture; inside--anything inside the hog they wouldn't eat it. And my father used to always--they used to always give that to him. And my mother [Georgiana Wynn Spruill] used to have jars and jars of chitterlings and hog feet and whatever inside, livers and whatnot, whatever was inside the hog. Some of it she used to give away. So he used to have a job.$$So she'd like, pickle those things?$$Yeah.$$Okay.$$Yeah.$And then on top of that, they said that I had to teach a course in mathematics [at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College; Alcorn State University, Lorman, Mississippi]. And for one semester I taught college mathematics. I said, "Now gee whiz, now they don't realize that some mathematics I had to struggle to get through at Hampton [Hampton Institute; Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia]?" But apparently, they looked at my (clears throat)--grade point [grade point average] and found out that I could teach math. But anyway, I struggled through that for a semester. And after a semester they got, they, they hired--no, the next year. I taught it for two years--a, a year. And the next year they got enough money to hire a professor, and I didn't have to teach it but one year. But that was quite a taxing on me, because that meant that I had to change over. I had to change clothes to teach auto mechanics body and finish spray paint. Then I had to have these kids to come down to the classroom, and I had to--I couldn't sit up there in my clothes that I taught auto mechanic in, so I'd change clothes. And that became quite a, quite a thing to do. So, it was rather taxing, but, and of course, I had to study real hard because I had to make sure that the students were, were learning something. I didn't wanna send no crippled student out. You know, I had to study ahead of the student to make sure that they learned something out of my classroom. And some of them said they did learn something out of the classroom.$$Okay. So, so you were in charge of the motor school for the whole (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Right.$$--the, the whole, the, the school as well--$$Right.$$--and maintain the buses. How old was the bus that you had to work on?$$The, the, there were some that were given to--almost, almost as old as that old cement mixer that I was telling you about. Later on, I understand after I left there they got some new buses. But while I was there, I had to, even sometimes, you used to even have to ride the bus in order to keep the bus running. Because something that's been used and used and used, you can't do but so much repairing. I don't care what it is. It was quite taxing.$$So you had trouble with parts breaking off and bolts and stuff like that and like that?$$Well, you, you had problems with that, yeah. Yeah, but you had to be so careful that you don't break nothing (laughter), you know, inside--$$That seem--people that have used cars know that the, the repair may look simple, but when you started--$$Yeah, because--$$--something might--a screw might strip or a bolt break off or you, you know, 'cause it's old.$$Yeah. You had to be very careful because you can't put but so much pressure on a bolt, putting a bolt in, because you put too much pressure, you're gonna break it off. And then what's gonna happen, you're gonna have to, to dig back in there and get that bolt out of there in order to put something in there, because that's pretty important. So I never had that problem.$$Okay.$$You know, I was always--well, first of all, today they haven't because you got these, these wrenches automatically, you know, that, impact wrenches they call them, you know, today, but you didn't have that many back in those days. You know, you had to use it by hand. And you, you didn't have but so much strength. So, but today you got those impact wrenches, and you can put all kind of pressure on a bolt and whatnot. So it's different today.