Bill Terry Jr

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Bill Terry Jr

William Henry Terry Jr (born February 23, 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 of Bill and Jimmie Lee Terry, Bill Jr 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. He told his family that he wished to be buried at Elmwood if he died in the service. He repeated that wish in a letter home from Vietnam. During the war he served in a combat platoon. On July 3, 1969 in the Long Khanh province, Terry threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of fellow soldiers, and was posthumously promoted to the rank of corporal. His wife, Margaret, later gave birth to a son, Patrick, whom 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.

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, and helped the family connect with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and attorney Oscar Adams to file suit against the cemetery's owners.

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." Terry's family was awarded $10,000 in damages and $2,000 to cover attorneys' fees and the cost of re-interring him. 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.


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