Terry Wright has a different father than her siblings, and while the rest of her family is Caucasian, she is half black. She was born in 1968, and almost 45 years later, she tells her friend and co-worker Percy Ell White III: "I can't imagine that time. A white woman's giving birth, and here comes a black child out of her. You know? And what all that meant. It just is mind boggling."
Terry never knew her father and grew up in a predominantly white suburb called Grand Island, New York. Her mother struggled with alcoholism, and Terry moved in with foster parents. Terry's foster parents were also Caucasian, which was unusual for the time.
When Percy asks her if she was the only African American in her school, Terry responds: "There was a couple. I could probably count on my hand — one hand — but they had the support of their black families. So, I was the only one in that situation of 'who am I?'"
When Terry was in middle school, she went outside to play and found a burnt cross in her front lawn.
"So I am thinking it's against God. You know, I was brought up Catholic," says Terry. Because no one told her the cross represented a hate crime against her, Terry sanded down the wood, painted it with the message "We love Jesus," and placed the cross back in her lawn.
"My foster mom knew about it," Terry tells Percy. "Everybody knew about it, and it was like a big secret. And then I happened to see a Ku Klux Klan movie... It all hit me at once. I saw these huge crosses. I'm like 'oh, my gosh!' I was furious but also disappointed, sad. I was upset by my foster parents, like, you put me in danger. I needed to have this information. And I think they were trying to protect me, but I felt like I needed information in order to protect myself."
Today, Terry's friendship with Percy helps her connect with her African American roots. They spend time researching the history of different African American families, and Percy started the website: FindFamilyRoots.com.
"I will always treasure our relationship because as you force me to look at who I am, you know, it just helps," Terry tells Percy.
This interview was recorded in Arlington, Va. at StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. To find out more information and to reserve a timeslot to tell your own story at the StoryCorps MobileBooth, visit StoryCorps.org.
[Music: "Perpetuum Mobile" by Penguin Cafe Orchestra from Concert Program]
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