Paul and Odessa Terry didn’t merely dream that all eight of their children would graduate from college; they expected it, and as an early Black family in Emporia, KS, it wasn’t that strange that most of them found their way to the campus of the Emporia State University Hornets.
Education was established early as a priority for Paul Terry and his siblings.
Paul’s sister, Joanna Terry Hayes, graduated in 1930 with a bachelor of science in education from Kansas State Teachers College, which later became ESU. Brother Charles also received his BSE from KSTC.
Another brother, Kenneth, graduated from Tuskegee Flight School at Tuskegee University, AL, and became a member of the elite Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American military fighter and bomber pilots who fought during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Paul Terry met his future wife, Odessa Bowser of Great Bend, as students at KSTC. Paul received his BSE Science degree in education in 1938, and Odessa received her BSE in 1939.
“They both went to school to become teachers, but they couldn’t get a job,” said Beverly Terry, the couple’s second-born child. In that earlier era, the Emporia school district did not hire African-American teachers.
Both Joanne and Charles Terry left Emporia to use their teaching degrees in Kansas City.
“They had to go to a Black school to teach,” Paul and Odessa Terry’s fourth child, Russell, explained. His parents could have done the same but chose instead to stay in Emporia and raise a family.
Paul Terry’s name already was well-known as an athlete at Emporia High School. Then-basketball coach Alfred Smith tapped Paul to play on the team, and the youngster agreed.
As the first African-American member of the EHS basketball team, Paul Terry routinely had faced racism and segregation issues. Restaurants refused to let him eat with the team. Occasionally, opposing team fans would trip him when he dribbled close to the sidelines, prompting referees to call him for traveling. In some cities, he was not even permitted to play.
According to an Emporia Gazette article after Paul Terry’s death in 2005, during his senior year in 1934, he was not allowed to play in the state tournament, when Emporia High brought home the first-place trophy.
But, Paul Terry persisted and rose above the obstacles he encountered. After graduation, he went on to KSTC, where he played on several all-Black intramural teams before receiving his degree.
He enlisted in the Army, served in the European Theater during World War II for two-and-a-half years, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.
Instead of the teaching career he had anticipated, he turned instead to the field of business. For more than 50 years, Paul was manager at Baird Dry Cleaners and continued on after ownership changed hands and became Spic ‘N Span Cleaners.
He served on several boards in the Emporia community. After his death, a scholarship was established in his name at Emporia State University, a basketball tournament named in his honor was held for a number of years, and a large portrait of him still hangs in a hall at EHS.
Paul Terry’s high-school experiences also influenced Coach Alfred Smith’s son, Dean Smith, who was a young child during Terry’s time at EHS. Dean Smith became well-known both as a strong proponent of integration and as the legendary coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team.
In his autobiography, “A Coach’s Life: My 40 Years in College Basketball,” Dean Smith cited Paul Terry for his role in integrating high school sports in Kansas.
Still, none of the barriers Terry encountered deterred him or diminished his thirst for education. At his death, he was only about six credit hours away from a master’s degree, youngest daughter Nadine Terry said.
And surely he was gratified that all of his children had achieved his and Odessa’s goal for them: graduate from college.
Five of the Terry children earned at least one degree from Emporia State while the remaining three took a different route, earning basketball scholarships to Hutchinson Junior College before going on to NCAA DI universities to gain their degrees.