By Brittany Whittley
In the early 1900’s, many Georgia-born African Americans were children of sharecroppers. Picking cotton was the way of life, farm duties were second nature, and making ends meet were primary concerns for the entire family, including the children, which means education was near last on the priority list. All any one of them could do was take what they were given and make it their own – to embrace the life with joy, tactfully find a way out, or ambitiously find a way up. Alex Terrell decided to go with the latter and took his sons with him, and one of them goes by the name Robert Terrell, Sr.
Born in 1935 on a farm in Greensboro with nine siblings, Robert Terrell would only spend a short time in the cotton field before spending more than 60 years in “the woods”. His father, a World War I veteran, was raised by a white family as a child and earned high responsibility in the fields as an adult. One of his responsibilities involved overseeing the distribution of funds to cotton workers, and he allowed young Terrell to help him by recording the names of the workers with the weight of their cotton sacs for daily wages. But his father’s most notable responsibility was his devotion to his own manual labor pulpwood operation, a business that not only changed his life, but the lives of the generations after him.
“Working was always something I wanted to do,” Terrell said. “I went with him when he was working.”
At the tender age of nine, Terrell grabbed his adjusted axe and began chopping trees with his father. He went on to take over the company after his father’s retirement in the early 60’s.
Having his own company brought in more revenue, but not without hard work. Terrell worked every day, some nights, some weekends to carry out his business and eventually take care of his wife and ten children.
As an African American Terrell walked unchartered territory, but not with challenges.
“When I first came to Morgan County, they [white people] said ‘you can’t make it here’,” Terrell said. “But it was two men, Al Kate and JD Harris, who said I could make it… I made believers out of them…those men helped me.”
Both men, in fact, were white men who had known of Terrell’s reputation and business. With their help, Terrell was able to keep walking towards his goals.
“He has a determination and a family to take care of,” His wife Hazel commented. “When they said he couldn’t, he said ‘I can’. He didn’t have much education but he had wisdom and internal encouragement.”
Terrell had only two years of education under his belt, but a world of experience, an upright reputation, astounding work ethic, and a strong will to make it. Ms. Terrell, having had a thorough education, transferred her husband’s thoughts to paper by writing out contracts, distributing pay role, and other secretarial duties, as well as getting her hands dirty with loading and driving the log trucks. With his experience, Terrell was able to make directional decisions and calculated investments to maintain the success of what is now a four-generation company.
Terrell made it through racial adversity, economical threats, and life’s challenges by upholding the right attitude – an attitude to succeed and not be defeated. His character softened the hearts of adversaries, and he is highly esteemed because of his honesty and hard work.
The power of what having noble character can overcome can be seen through the hard work and perseverance of Terrell name.