Bill Terry Jr

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Bill Terry Jr (born c. 1949; died July 3, 1969 in Vietnam) was an American soldier in the Vietnam War and the first African American to be buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

The oldest of nine children, Terry was fascinated by cars and planned to become an auto mechanic. He was drafted into the army before finishing high school and quickly married his girlfriend before reporting. During the war he threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of fellow soldiers. His wife later gave birth to a son he never met.

Terry had requested burial at Elmwood in order to be close to his family in Titusville. When the cemetery's owners refused to allow it, the family filed a lawsuit in federal court. As the trial proceeded, the Ku Klux Klan attempted to intimidate the family by making threatening calls, burning a cross in their yard, and vandalizing Terry's headstone at Shadow Lawn Cemetery. Neighbors rose to their defense, other Elmwood plot owners offered to donate a burial place, and Eugene Ferrell, the white pastor of the primarily black Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church led marches in Birmingham and Washington D.C. supporting Terry.

Judge Seybourn Lynne ruled that "Elmwood was legally obligated to sell burial plots in its public cemetery to all United States citizens, on equal terms, without regard to race or color." and on January 3, 1970 Terry's casket was moved to Elmwood. His parents and sister are now buried nearby.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2009 Birmingham City Council member Carol Duncan organized a ceremony honoring Terry's memory at the request of a family friend. The ceremony took place at the Alabama Veterans Memorial.

References

  • Stock, Erin (May 25, 2009) "Birmingham, Alabama City Council honors Bill Terry Jr., who was buried in Elmwood Cemetery after civil rights court case." The Birmingham News