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Jan 31, 2012 | EDOT Staff, Commission on Black Ministry

Black History Month Celebrates Roger "Bill" Terry

Sign where Terry spent Sundays

greeting parishioners and visitors

to St. Philip’s, Los Angeles.

On October 21, 2010, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church members, along with surviving Tuskegee Airmen, unveiled a sign designating the corner of 28th and Stanford as Roger Bill Terry Square. The sign honored the service of Roger "Bill" Terry, a Tuskegee Airman and a longtime member of the Los Angeles parish. Terry was an usher at the parish for more than 40 years. For many Sunday mornings Terry would stand at the corner of 28th and Stanford before services, shaking hands and greeting members and visitors. St. Philip’s is the oldest historically Black congregation in the Diocese of Los Angeles and was designated as an historical cultural landmark in 2010. 

 

Terry was  born in Los Angeles on Aug. 13, 1921. He earned an athletic scholarship to UCLA, where he played basketball and roomed with Jackie Robinson. After graduating from in 1941, he was recruited to train at the Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama and earned his silver pilot's wings on Feb. 1, 1945, becoming a second lieutenant.  Terry was transferred to Freeman Field in Indiana.  Freeman Field had one officer’s club which was reserved for whites. The fight for equal rights in the Army were constant, not just limiting admittance to the officer’s club but also limiting equal rights for promotions.

 

The airmen felt that black and white officers were serving their country equally and deserved equal treatment so began a plan to forcibly integrate the club. On April 5, 1945, Terry helped 2nd Lt. Coleman A. Young, who later became mayor of Detroit, send black airmen over to the white officers' club. In all, 162 black officers were arrested during what became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny. The Mutiny became a high profile case and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall directed the defense team. Only Terry and two others received a general court martial, but it was only Terry  who was convicted of "jostling" an officer. He was fined $150, reduced in rank and dishonorably discharged in November 1945. Terry never flew oversees.

He returned to Los Angeles, married and earned his law degree from Southwestern Law School in 1949. He worked as an investigator with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and with the county probation department. In 1972, Terry helped found Tuskegee Airmen Inc. to draw attention to their history and provide scholarships for high school students. The group has 55 chapters nationwide and a museum in Detroit.

On Aug. 2, 1995, the Army pardoned Terry, restored his rank and refunded his $150 fine. Two years ago, Terry and several other airmen collectively received a Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C.  Recently, Terry was interviewed and served as a technical advisor for "Red Tails," the film about the Tuskegee Airmen produced by George Lucas.

 

Terry and other airmen were invited by President Obama to attend his inauguration but did not attend because of the frigid weather in Washington,D.C.

 

 

Tuskegee Airman Roger Terry holds the paperwork clearing his name after he was court-martialed.   

Terry receiving a Congressional Gold Medal from
President George W. Bush.

                     
                   



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