(This is the second in our weekly series of Clarksville Faces of Black History profiles for Black History Month.)
When Alicia Keys sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” moments before the start of last Sunday’s Super Bowl, Clarksville Fire Rescue Engineer Jimmy Terry Jr. stood up and sang it word for word along with her.
The famous song – often referred to as the "Black national anthem" – is a hymn written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 and set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, for the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1905.
The Super Bowl sing-along illustrates the layers of meaning of Black History Month that Terry Jr. has absorbed over his years growing up and later working in Clarksville alongside his esteemed father, the late Rev. Jimmy Terry Sr.
“Yes, I learned that song as a child from my Dad,” Terry Jr. said. “And we didn’t just learn the first verse. Man, I learned the whole thing -- all three verses.”
The Rev. Terry Sr. was a skillful preacher at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church and founder of Tabernacle Christian School who died in 2018 after touching an immeasurable number of lives through his ministry and his community leadership. He was well-known for his annual sign campaigns to keep Christ in Christmas and Easter, which continue today, and for his saying, "Clarksville is a great place to live."
Terry Jr. said his dad was legendary for his commitment to his Christian faith and for his longstanding advocacy for celebrating Black History, not just for one month a year, but all year long.
“I can tell you this about my father,” Terry Jr. said. “What you saw in public was exactly what I saw at home. He was devout and passionate about preaching and teaching and leading. He lived it!”
Terry Jr., who has been at Fire Rescue for 32 years, now serves as an engineer driving the big fire trucks at Fire Station 3 in Hilldale. He also works as a real estate agent for Century 21.
Earlier in his career, Terry Jr. lived for a time in Nashville, in part to be out of the long shadow cast by his father in Clarksville. “Yes, Pastor Terry, was almost larger than life at times, and I felt I had to find my own way,” he said. “But I was always proud to be his son, like when people saw him pray at the inauguration of Gov. Ned McWhirter, and my classmates would say, ‘Hey, I saw your dad on TV. Or sometimes, when people would learn I was his son, their whole attitude would change and they would testify how much they loved and respected Pastor Terry.”
He moved back home to Clarksville about 15 years ago, when his daughter, Londyn, was born, and he’s sure he’s here to stay.
“Clarksville has changed immensely and for the better in terms of equality and opportunity, and I think my Dad’s consistency as a Black community leader, along with others, had a lot to do with that,” Terry Jr. said. “You see it today with our City Council, which now has six Black members, and at the Fire Department, where Chief Freddie Montgomery is making a big impact.”
These days, Terry Jr. strives to keep his father’s holiday sign tradition alive and well by keeping a supply of red Christmas signs and green Easter signs on hand and making them available to his neighbors in the Farmington subdivision and others.
“It’s an enduring part of his legacy, and I’m going to do my best to keep it going,” Terry Jr. said.
Fittingly, Jimmy Terry Sr. also lives on every day in the Black History of Clarksville. To honor his memory and to keep it close, after his death the City joined with a citizens committee to dedicate the Jimmy Terry Monument at McGregor Park along Riverside Drive.