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Co-founder of Brazos Valley African American Museum dies

Posted at 8:40 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 21:40:42-05

BRYAN, Texas — In just the span of one month, the Brazos Valley African American Museum has lost two of its greatest influences, with the passing of curator Oliver Wayne Sadberry Jr. and now the death of co-founder Willie Pruitt.

“Unexpected, and indescribable- that's what the feeling is," said Barry Davis, board member with the museum. "But it still gives us a feeling of hope, knowing that he's is in a good place, and he’s where the good lord would want him to be at this time.”

Willie Pruitt passed away on Sunday at the age of 92. Willie and his wife Mell Ruth are credited with founding the museum in 1999. Mell had long been collecting artifacts significant to the local black community, storing these items in their home. As she and Willie were both educators, the couple sought to provide the Bryan-College Station community with a connection to important aspects of their history.

“[Willie] used to always like to talk to different [tour] groups and tell them about picking cotton and how they did it because he did it," Davis said. "And it was something he wanted to share and pass along. School groups and things like that, when they came in here, they were always fascinated by it. And he just loved doing that.”

Mell passed away in 2009, and as Willie aged, his role at the museum became more relaxed. But, he never stopped contributing.

Now that several key leaders of the museum have passed, it’s up to the next generation of board members and volunteers to ensure that the Pruitt family’s vision to educate and preserve history continues to be realized.

“The history here is important, and [so is] connecting that with future generations, so that they understand what people have accomplished here in the Brazos Valley," said Crystal Carter, BVAAM board member and former executive director.

Staff expressed that they are confident in what tomorrow will hold, hopeful of younger generations to carry on as preservers of history. Davis said he believes Willie’s spirit is with them.

“Hey now, if I had some shades, I’d put some shades on, because the future is bright," Davis asserted. "You know what I mean?"

The BVAAM is hosting a public viewing for Willie Pruitt at the museum from noon to 6 p.m. this Friday. The community is invited to come and pay their respects. Entry to the museum is temporarily free for the remainder of Black History Month, thanks to donor support.