Thursday, August 14, 2014


Sometimes being an actor means your name gets misspelled in the credits. Not my first name, but my last name. It hasn't happened that often, but it did recently on a short film I performed in, of which a DVD copy was shipped to me. It's always the same mistake, instead of Rod Harrel, the billing is "Rod Harrell". The film in question, "Diana Leigh", is very good and considering it's low budget, me asking the producers to fix the mistake would be rather pointless. But, it is irksome mainly because it relates me to the side of the family that once owned slaves.

As far as I know about my family history, the clan may have originated in a hamlet in Normandy, France named Harel. There is also the odd chance that I may be related somehow to the person who "invented" Camembert cheese! Regardless, the family probably immigrated to Great Britain and from there, perhaps around 1750-1770, immigrated to the United States. Shortly after arriving, there was some sort of fight amongst the Harrel family and they split up. The Harrels apparently settled in the Indiana/Kentucky area while the Harrells (now sporting an extra "l" at the end of the name) wound up going to the South. That was about all I knew about outside of the direct lineage of my father, grandfather and so on. That is, until the early part of the 21st century when I got a sweet gig helping remodel a restaurant.

On a certain pay day, I happened to notice that one of my co-worker's last name was "Harrell". This was interesting for two reasons: one, it's not a common name and two, he was a black man. So, during lunch break I engaged him in a conversation about our similar last names whereupon I learned the ugly truth: the Harrells were once plantation owners and owners of slaves and those slaves were his descendants! In fact he knew more about the family history of Harrel/Harrell than I did. He regaled me with some stories I already knew (like the fight that split up the family) and some that I did not.

Besides the business about slavery, he told me that there still existed a town called Harrellsville and it was in North Carolina. Sporting a current population of about 106, it was more than likely built around the old Harrell plantation and was a far cry from it's mid-nineteenth century population of nearly 10,000. The fact that Mr. Harrell knew so much about my side of the family history indicated to me that some of the split up family must of had communicated.

(The courthouse in Harrellsville, North Carolina.)
What of Mr. Harrell himself? At the time I knew him, he was living in a flop house across the street from the restaurant we were helping to remodel. He wound up there after a divorce from his wife. He had played football in college and some professional football in minor, short lived leagues such as the United States Football League as a running back. I mused that I had more than likely seen him play football on television. Although it was a brief encounter with Mr. Harrell, I found him to be affable and, of course, highly knowledgeable of the family history. It was because of this meeting that besides having people misspell my name as "Harrell" being an annoyance, it also became a source of irritation. "Don't lump me together with the family that owned slaves! It's Harrel, with one 'l'".

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