Wallace Terry (1938-2003) was an award-winning journalist, news commentator and bestselling author distinguished for his coverage of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
Terry was born on April 21, 1938 in New York City and raised in Indianapolis.
Wallace Terry worked on his college paper, Brown University's Daily Herald. While there he pursued one of the major school desegregation stories of the period. In 1957 in Little Rock, Ark., Gov. Orval Faubus defied a federal court order to allow African American students in Central High School. His defiance led to a showdown with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who sent federal troops to the school to ensure the admission of the children.
- Terry went after the story like a charging bull. Reporters had been warned they could not get close to Faubus, who was in Providence, R.I. to meet with President Eisenhower about the Central High School crisis. Terry made up his mind to get an interview with the governor. He walked passed the guards to the governor's hotel room and identified himself. Faubus half-heartedly promised him an interview the next day. A wire service photographer was there and snapped a photo as the two shook hands.
The photo was carried around the world and appeared on the front page of theNew York Timesand in the New York Daily News. One headline read: "Negro reporter gets fair shake from Faubus." The photo caught the attention ofWashington Posteditor Ben Gilbert, who offered Terry a summer job as a copy boy. Terry, bluffed and told Gilbert that he would not work as a copy boy because he was a reporter and had already worked at the Indianapolis Daily News (although in reality he had been an assistant to the obit writer helping write obits and getting coffee). The Post gave him the summer job as a reporter. That year, he also won the position of editor-in-chief of the Brown Daily Herald, making him the first African American to hold that post.
Terry did graduate studies in theology as a Rockefeller Fellow at the University of Chicago, and in international relations as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He was the Gannett Professor of Journalism at Howard University, and a trustee of Brown, the College of William and Mary, and the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago. He belonged to Phi Beta Kappa, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and was an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ Church.
Wallace Terry was recognized as the leading authority on the black experience in Vietnam. His internationally acclaimed book, BLOODS: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans, was named one of the five best nonfiction books of the year by Time magazine, and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Terry’s career as a journalist and war correspondent was featured in three BBC television documentaries—The Camera at War, Muhammad Ali, and Divided We Stand: Race & the Media. He wrote and narrated the PBS Frontline documentary, The Bloods of ‘Nam, and in 1995, Disney Studios released the Hughes Brothers film, Dead Presidents, based on a chapter from BLOODS.
BLOODS, published in 1984, was named Best Book of the Year by The Baltimore Sun, a Notable Book by The New York Times, honored by 52 cities and states, and by the U.S. Congress and Vietnam Veterans of America. Adaptations of BLOODS have won the NAACP Hollywood Image Award, the Gold Cindy, and a national Emmy nomination. Terry’s one-man show, BLOODS: An Evening with Wallace Terry, was performed at more than 200 colleges and universities. In 1987, Terry was named Entertainer of the Year by the National Association of Campus Activities. BLOODS continues to be required reading at colleges and universities across the country.
Terry’s second book, MISSING PAGES: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History was published posthumously in 2007. MISSING PAGES is a collection of nineteen interviews with black men and women who were pioneers in journalism.
- The stories they covered were some of the most important in the 20th Century and many times at great danger to their lives. Chuck Stone’s toes froze in fear when he found himself as a go-between and negotiator for prison officials and inmates during a prison uprising; Hank Brown had his camera focused on President Ronald Reagan at the exact moment he was shot; a white pistol-packing sheriff told Jimmy Hicks he had to sit at the Jim Crow table during the murder trial of Emmett Till; when Karen DeWitt arrived at a small rural town in Arkansas to cover the “mood of America,” she discovered she was the only black person in the town; the Black Panthers wanted Earl Caldwell to let them steal hisNew York Timesrental car. These are riveting accounts of war and death, loyalty and betrayal, encounters with racism and sexism, and of incredible experiences that are artfully and honestly told by some of the best in the business.
Terry wrote and narrated the only documentary recording from the battlefields of Vietnam, GUESS WHO'S COMING HOME: Black Fighting Men Recorded Live in Vietnam, released in 1972. GUESS WHO'S COMING HOME was re-released in 2006.
In a pioneering career that began with the Washington Post, Terry was a reporter, a Washington-based correspondent, radio and television commentator, lecturer, university professor, advertising executive, ordained minister and advisor to the Air Force, Marine Corps and Veterans Administration. As a reporter and war correspondent, Terry’s scoops landed his photograph on the front page of the New York Times, and his stories across the pages of theWashington Postand Time magazine. As a news analyst, he appeared on the Meet the Press, Face the Nation, CBS Evening News, the BBC, and Agronsky & Co. He was a guest on the Today Show, CNN, C- SPAN, the Larry King Show, Good Morning America, and Soul Train. His news commentaries were heard on CBS Radio Spectrum, Mutual Broadcasting, National Public Radio, Voice of America, Black Entertainment Television, and WUSA- TV and WTOP Radio in Washington.
Wallace Terry interviews Bobby Seale
Terry originated the op-ed page of USA Today and was contributing editor at Parade. At Time, Terry had exclusive interviews with Adlai Stevenson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Hoffa, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Medgar Evers, and Bobby Seale. As a member of the founding staff of USA Today, he interviewed Jimmy Carter, Edward Teller, Marian Wright Edelman, Jerry Falwell, and John Lewis.
In 1991, Terry received the Medal of Honor for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism from the University of Missouri. In 1992, he became the first J. Saunders Redding Visiting Fellow at Brown University and was named Seigenthaler Lecturer of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University. In 1993, he was named Class of 1939 Artist-in-Residence at The College of William & Mary . He taught “Eyewitness to the Sixties: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War,” based upon his career.
Civil Rights coverage
In his coverage of the Civil Rights Movement for the Washington Post, Terry wrote the first newspaper series on the Black Muslims, followed demonstrations in Danville, Jackson, Birmingham, and Selma, and reported the first story on the movement’s turn toward Black Power nationalism. When Terry joined Time in 1963, he became the first black Washington correspondent for the mainstream media and the first black news magazine reporter. For Time, he covered urban upheavals in Harlem—where he was knocked out cold by a brick hurled from a rooftop—Watts, Detroit and Newark, as well as the 1964 Presidential campaign, labor, housing and the White House.
In 1967, Terry left for Vietnam where he became deputy bureau chief for Time in Saigon and the first fulltime black war correspondent for the mainstream media.
For two years, he covered the Tet Offensive, flew scores of combat missions with American and South Vietnamese pilots, and joined assault troops in the Ashau Valley and on Hamburger Hill.
His fellow reporters "cheered his daring rescue" with a fellow correspondent, Zalin Grant, of the bodies of four reporters killed by the Viet Cong during the May 1968 Offensive.
After his tour in Vietnam, Terry was appointed as the first Frederick Douglass Professor of Journalism at Howard University. He helped place many of his students in major news organizations. He also helped numerous young black men and women find scholarships to colleges and universities. And he was a tireless and devoted advocate for all veterans of the Vietnam War, serving on numerous national boards and committees which address veterans’ issues.
Worked with Viet Cong spy
Pham Xuan An
While in Vietnam Terry and Zalin Grant both worked with Pham Xuan An, later revealed to be a top Viet Cong spy. Grant also rented an apartment from Ho An who turned out to be a Central Committee member of the National Liberation Front, the highest-ranking Viet Cong in Danang.
According to Zalin Grant;
- I had been reassigned to Danang to establish the headquarters for the buildup of army intelligence in First Corps, South Vietnam’s northernmost area. I was looking for a villa to rent as offices and sleeping quarters. Someone steered me to an English professor at a lycée in Danang. He was building a villa, I was told, and though I found it odd that an English teacher would have that kind of money, I got in touch with him.
- Ho An was a scholarly looking guy, glasses, thin, early forties. He and I became “friends.” I rented his villa after he let me design American-style bathrooms for the house. I saw him often and we always talked politics.
- One of our conversations began to sound to me like a recruitment pitch. I accused him of being a communist. Backing off, he said, “No, I am a socialist.”
- Actually, as it turned out, Ho An ran the VC prisoner of war camps in First Corps and was known to American POWs as “Mr. Ho.” He was responsible for “Vietnam’s Worst POW Camp” . He later persuaded U.S. Marine prisoner of war, Robert Garwood, to defect to the Viet Cong.
Wallace Terry, author of "Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans" visited Vietnam in 1967 as a correspondent for Time magazine.
- "While there he observed that the majority of African-Americans in Vietnam were of the school of thought that it was better to fight for civil rights at home by proving their patriotism in Vietnam, rather than engaging in violence."
Three years later in 1970, Wallace Terry returned to Vietnam to conduct a survey among 392 African-American and white soldiers from all branches of the military and from both enlisted and officer ranks.
- The results of his survey dramatically show a change in African-American attitudes only after three years. In 1967 Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and Stokely Carmichael were not very popular with African-American soldiers because of their stance against the Vietnam War. But in 1970 they were regarded as heroes for the same reason.
Some of the other results of Terry's 1970 survey:
- 50% of African-Americans said that they would use their weapons in the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
- 30% said they would join black power organizations.
- 83% believed that additional American race riots were inevitable and 45% of those said that they would participate in such riots.
- 45% would refuse orders to put down riots involving African-Americans.
- 65% believed that race relations in Vietnam would deteriorate.
- 76% rejected the term "Negro" for "Black" or "Afro-American."
- 72% approved of Eldridge Cleaver.
- 70% approved of Malcolm X.
- 69% approved of Muhammad Ali.
- 53% approved of Roy Wilkins of the NAACP.
Black Press Institute
- Interview with Alice Palmer, Katherine Elizabeth McAuliff, Columbia College - Chicago, Spring 2010,
- Terry, Wallace. (1970). "Bringing the War Home." Black Scholar, 2(3), p. 6-18.
- Black Press Institute Letterhead October 5 1987