By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Five years before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I have a Dream” speech before 200,000 Americans, the late civil rights leader received an invitation to speak at a commencement ceremony at a college that would later become the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
In those years, King had yet to become a household name. Still, the message of peace he was hoping to get across to Americans struck a chord with Alvin William Terry, who at the time was senior class president of the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (now UAPB).
After college Terry would go on to raise a family and become a church leader in Arkadelphia. It was in 1963 that he became pastor of Greater Pleasant Hill Baptist Church on Caddo Street. Two years later, Terry and five other Arkadelphians — Charles Natt, Carl Daniels, Joe Charles Stephens, Artel Horton and Charles Todd — traveled to Alabama to join some 25,000 others in King’s 54-mile march from Selma to the state’s capital in Montgomery. Those men are known as The Arkadelphia 6.
Although he never shared many details about the March on Selma with friends and family, he returned home a different man. In keeping King’s mission alive, he spoke out against any injustice he observed in Arkadelphia. In addition, he was a formative leader of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, of which he eventually served as president.
Members of Terry’s congregation encouraged him to start Mt. Olive Baptist Church, which he founded in 1972. He pastored there until his death in 1992 at age 59. He was also NAACP president at the time.
“King’s persona and mission very much impacted my dad,” said his son, the Rev. Llewellyn Terry Sr., who now carries the torch of speaking out against unfair treatment. “He brought King’s mission and leadership to Arkadelphia. He was involved and wanted everybody to be treated fairly. My father was always a voice in the community, and I think that’s where I got it from.”
In filling his father’s shoes, Llewellyn Terry Sr. has pastored at Mt. Olive since 1992 and is also an outspoken leader in the Arkadelphia community. He said his dad’s involvement in the March on Selma was because of the disproportionate number of African Americans in the prison system, a gap that remains decades later.
“My father was all about unity and fairness,” the younger Terry said. “He was a voice for the voices. He believed in working together. That was the same message Dr. King had, and my dad emulated that and promoted it in Arkadelphia.”