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Wallace Terry, 65; Reported on Civil Rights, Blacks in Vietnam

June 02, 2003|From the Washington Post

Wallace Terry, a pioneering black journalist and author who covered the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, has died. He was 65.

Terry died Thursday in Fairfax, Va., of Wegener's granulomatosis, an inflammation of the blood vessels.

One of only a small number of black reporters at mainstream U.S. newspapers when he joined the Washington Post in 1960, Terry also was one of the first black war correspondents.

His best-selling book, "Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans," was published in 1984 and detailed the experiences of 20 black soldiers. The book served as the basis for a PBS documentary that aired in 1986. At the time of his death, Terry was working on a film script from the book.

An enterprising journalist even in his teens, Terry made the nation's front pages while a student at Brown University.

In a historic confrontation, Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas defied a federal court order for the integration of Little Rock High School. As the crisis was developing, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was taking time off at Newport, R.I. Faubus went to Rhode Island to see him and stayed at a hotel in Providence. Terry saw his chance, bypassed guards and went boldly to the governor's hotel room to ask for an interview.

In September 1957, a photograph of the two of them shaking hands made the front page of the New York Daily News, and according to the Web site of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, it also made the front page of the New York Times.

Terry later was named editor in chief of the Brown Daily Herald. He was the first black to hold that post and one of the first to be a top student newspaper editor at any Ivy League school.

His face-to-face interview with Faubus, according to the institute's account, led to a job offer to spend the next summer as a reporter at the Post. Shortly after graduation in 1959, he became a full-time staff member.

Terry, who was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, also did graduate work in theology as a Rockefeller fellow at the University of Chicago. He was an ordained minister. Later in his career, he was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. First at the Post, later with Time magazine, Terry covered the burgeoning civil rights movement and the growing protests in the nation's inner cities. He traveled frequently with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Early in his career at the Post, Terry wrote a weeklong series on the Nation of Islam, at one point obtaining the aid of Malcolm X for the project.

In a PBS report on covering the Vietnam War, Terry said he took the assignment in 1967 "because it was the biggest story in the world at the time."

Terry, who was born in New York City and raised in Indianapolis, also was a teacher for many years at Howard University and a staff member at or contributor to a variety of publications including USA Today and Parade magazine. Terry also was heard or seen as an analyst or commentator on numerous radio and television news shows.

He is survived by his wife, Janice; two sons; a daughter; a sister; and two grandchildren.

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