Pasadena is one of those cities where a lot of people are related in some way. When I got to Artist Emerson Terry's house and his son Anthony was on the front porch I looked at him and thought that I knew him, but I had already done a piece on Emerson's daughter Riea, who is also an artist, so I brushed it off as he simply resembled his sister. Within one minute we understood the connection, he is married to my cousin Gloria and we had met before at a family function. We hugged and everyone felt a little more comfortable about the interview.
In 1975 Emerson's daughter, who was attending Jackson elementary decided that she wanted to do a book report. Mr. Terry gave her a book about African cowboys. She did the report, but the teacher told her there was no such thing as negro cowboys. It upset his daughter, so he chose to do something about it. Although he was busy, he found the time to do a painting of Bose Ikard an African-American cowboy who participated in pioneering cattle drives on what became known as the Goodnight-Loving trail, after the American Civil War and through 1869. Aspects of his life inspired the fictional character Joshua Deeds, the African-American cowboy in Larry McMurtry's novel, Lonesome Dove. Emerson became well-known for the series of African cowboy paintings.
Mr. Terry has retired and he doesn't plan to give anymore exhibits because of his age, but we are sure his daughter Riea, who is behind the recent art exhibits at the Akelbulan Cultural Center on Raymond here in Pasadena. If you get the opportunity to see his work do so, because it is amazing.
Born in 1925 in Ohio, Emerson joined the armed services and through those journeys he ended up in California. when Emerson graduated he thought he was gonna run out and land the job of a lifetime, but it didn't go that way. He was snubbed by several companies for nothing more than being Black. The doors were closed.
He landed a job at Douglas Aircraft doing technical illustration. "It took me two to three years of doing that kind of work, before I could actually get into the advertising field, but I did get in," Emerson told the Pasadena Black Pages.
The family home is across the street from John Muir and all of his kids went to elementary, junior high and they attended John Muir.
Mr. Terry became well-known for the depiction he documented of the civil rights movement of the 60s. He couldn't be there for most of the demostrations, because he had a large family to take care of, so he decided to paint to give his contribution to the cause.
By Dennis Haywood
Interview by Dennis Haywood
Emerson Terry is 90 years old now and actively retired, but the history he gave us about not only raising his family in Pasadena, but about the art and design business as well is priceless. He was one of the first African-Americans to graduate from the Art Center College of Design with a degree in Advertising. The school is located in Pasadena now, but it was in Los Angeles at that time.