Ernest E. Harrill was born in Forest City, North Carolina on August 14, 1917 and lived his early years in Bostic, North Carolina. After graduating from Cool Springs High School in Forest City and Mars Hill Junior College, he was employed by the North Carolina Unemployment Compensation Commission in Raleigh, North Carolina. Harrill joined the U.S. Army Air Force and served in Australia and New Guinea during WWII. After the war, Harrill received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Political Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
While awaiting an assignment as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department, Harrill signed a one-year teaching contract at Furman University. Harrill eventually opted out of the Foreign Service and remained at Furman from 1949-1983. Harrill served as professor of Political Science at Furman, and served as Dean of Students, and Chairman of the Political Science Department. Upon retirement in 1983, Harrill was appointed Professor Emeritus of Political Science by the Furman Board of Trustees.
In February 1970, Harrill served as chair of the Citizens’ Committee formed by the Greenville County School District to help implement integration of Greenville County schools. The committee mounted its own publicity blitz around the slogan “The Important Thing is Education,” held meetings and operated a hotline to answer parents’ questions and ease fears about the student transfers. On the day of transfers, February 17, 1970, Harrill gave a statement to the press and was quoted in many newspapers and on CBS News by Walter Cronkite.
Harrill died on December 9, 2011 in Charlotte, NC.