The Daniel Jenkins Project was safe, friendly and filled with devout Baptists who kept watchful eyes on their children as well as those of their neighbors. Doors were never locked. "If I went by Miss Pearlie's house and didn't say good afternoon or good evening, I got a whipping when I got home," says Shell. "Sometimes Miss Pearlie would say, 'Come here, boy,' and give me a spanking herself. I enjoyed my childhood. I didn't want for a meal or toys. I had what I wanted—an extended family."
His mother, Gertrude, suffered from a heart problem, and the Shell children were instructed to help their mother with the chores. Because Art was the oldest, he took charge, washing dishes, cleaning the house and helping with the cooking. "My mother agonized a lot," says Shell. "I can still see her crying as she ironed the clothes, worrying about her family. I was very close to her, closer to her than my father, because I was with her so much. She loved to talk, and I loved to listen."
One afternoon, when Shell was 15 and playing in the front yard, Gertrude became ill. Shell phoned his father at the mill and then raced his parents to the hospital in the family's '53 black Chevy.
"Everybody was crying and carrying on," recalls Shell's brother Kenneth. "When the car pulled out of sight, I said, 'Mama isn't ever coming back.' "
Only 35, Gertrude died of a heart attack. Arthur Sr. gathered the children and made them a promise. "I will raise you all," he said. "Being a family is the most important thing."
While his father worked, Shell looked after his three brothers and one sister, and that forced him to grow up quickly. Arthur Sr. had dropped out of school after the sixth grade to help his family in the cotton fields; Gertrude had gotten only as far as fifth grade. Having his children go to college was Arthur Sr.'s biggest dream.
As a senior at Bonds-Wilson High, Shell made all-state in football and basketball, and he accepted a football scholarship to Maryland State. A two-way player in each of his four years, he was named Little All-America offensive tackle as a senior in 1967. The Raiders were impressed with his size and agility—he also started at center on Maryland State's basketball team for three seasons—and they selected him in the third round of the combined AFL- NFL draft in 1968.
"Art was his father's heart," says Eugene Graves, Shell's basketball coach at Bonds-Wilson. "He always talked about Art. He was so proud of him."
Says Seward, "There were a lot of success stories on the project, but Art's is by far the biggest. Everyone is overwhelmed. We should all celebrate."
Last Jan. 24, Shell learned he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. A half hour later, his sister, Eartha, phoned to say their father had suffered a stroke. A diabetic, Arthur Sr. had been undergoing dialysis for several years and was confined to a wheelchair. Now, the left side of his face was paralyzed.