African American Studies
Interviewer: Mark Naison, Rachel Donaldson
Interviewee: Henry Pruitt
Summarized by Salmaan Khan on 3/11/07
Henry Pruitt grew up in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. He speaks in depth of the environment of the Bronx and how he experienced it growing up. His first memory of going to the park or the beach in the Bronx is of Crotona Park in the 40’s and 50’s when he was in elementary school. In 1943, Henry began going to Camp Minisink, where he learned fishing in a catfish pond. He was taught important skills of fishing such as patience, selecting proper bait, and being in the right place while fishing by a man named Pop Neville, who also lived in the Bronx. He was also taught how to differentiate between different kinds of bait for different kinds of fish and how to clean the fish. Camp Minisink had around three hundred kids where there was art, music and drama, followed by a fishing class.
When they would go fishing in NYC they would go to the Hudson River, they would fish off the piers in Manhattan. They would catch Tommy Cods with sandworms, which is an annelid that lives in the sand in the Atlantic Ocean. These could be found by digging them at low tide along Orchard Beach, or simply by buying them in stores. Pruitt says after learning, he would always fish by himself. As he grew up, he would find different spots to fish. There were not many older fishermen who showed him what to do, so he “learned that along the way.” He would fish on the Bronx River for fresh water fish, or on Orchard Beach for flounders and striped bass. However, he says he still does not understand Crotona Park Lake, as there seems to be no inlet or outlet, and he does not know where the water comes from. He would usually see other people out fishing when he went by himself. He recalls people who would be there every day, and eventually there was a sense of camaraderie.
Pruitt describes pollution as not being an issue growing up. However, while it is more of an issue today, he continues to eat the fish he catches. He also speaks of his involvement in the Boy Scouts of St. Augustine. He started out at eight or nine and stayed until he was fifteen or sixteen. Though the Boy Scouts were more sports oriented, he was always more interested in fishing. Eventually, he became a nature counselor at Camp Minisink.
Pruitt went to Dewitt Clinton High School and eventually Hunter College. He had been interested in science all his life, which he felt went hand in hand with his interest in fishing. He studied science at Hunter College and ended up working at Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research as a lab technician. Eventually, he became a teacher there, and moved on to a job as a teacher at a junior high school at 143rd street and Brook Avenue in the Bronx. Pruitt taught in the Bronx for seven years at the same school, and eventually went to Harlem Prep for a year where he was offered a job at Columbia University at the Teachers College. Eventually, he had to leave Columbia and went to Borough of Manhattan Community College where he was the chairman of the department of development skills. However, after the college noticed that he had not finished his degree, he was forced to finish it. He cites the influence of several mentors throughout his life as having been a critical factor in his professional success, as he has attained a total of five degrees.
Pruitt, Henry. August 3, 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Pruitt, Henry.mp3 (56247 kB)