Historical Marker Unveiled For Harriet Josephine Terry

Jennifer L. Warren - Hudson Valley Press

June 16, 2021

Originally published in Hudson Valley Press on June 16, 2021.

Senator James Skoufis was among several of the dignitaries on hand Thursday afternoon, honoring Harriet Josephine Terry, the first African-American to graduate high school from Cornwall, and one of the original founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Skoufis is flanked by; Sonya D. Fiol-Grant, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. North Atlantic Region Vice Chairman; Susan Kamlet, President Cornwall Historical Society; Mary Bentley LaMar, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Regional Director and Kim Jarratt, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Vice President.

Senator Skoufis celebrates marker unveiling in Cornwall-on-Hudson

CORNWALL-ON-HUDSON – Make no mistake about it: Harriet Josephine Terry has officially returned home to her roots, Cornwall-on-Hudson.

Her official homecoming came in the form of a special Historical Marker, bearing her name, during an unveiling ceremony, held Thursday, on the grounds of 24 Idlewood Avenue.

Located directly across from the former Cornwall-on-Hudson High School, in the front yard of The Cornwall Central School District Central Office, the Historic Marker resides in a truly symbolic setting. Terry, at the time, was one of only five African-Americans to attend the secondary school, carries the distinction of the first ever Black person to graduate from the Cornwall-on-Hudson High School. An honor student member of the graduating class of 1903, Terry went on to attend Howard University, where along with 15 other female students, she founded Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the premiere intercollegiate African-American sorority, now one of the nation’s largest Greek-letter organizations with over 1,000 chapters and 300,000 sorority sisters throughout the world, committed to local community service.

One of those distinguished chapters, Iota Alpha Omega of the Mid-Hudson Valley, New York in partnership with the Cornwall Historical Society, along with the AKA International Archives Committee teamed up, arduously researching and organizing the impressive details of Terry’s life, making the Historical Marker a possibility. The special “homecoming” process was further aided by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation’s generous contributions and support.

Following the Ceremony’s Welcome remarks, laden with pride, provided by Sonya D. Fiol-Grant, the Chairman of the Marker Initiative as well as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. North Atlantic Region Vice Chairman, Susan Kamlet, President of Cornwall Historical Society spoke of the lasting bonds she developed with the Sorority Sisters while learning more about Terry’s life. Kamlet also pointed to the charm, grace and radiant smile, along with impressive intellectual, organizational and other gifts, of the honoree.

“For the past four years I’ve been getting to know more about her (Terry’s) life; a college professor at agricultural colleges, she achieved something that was almost unheard of for women of her time,” pointed out Kamlet. “My education about her continues, as I remain her student.”

Also offering words of praise about Terry was James Kane, Deputy Mayor of Cornwall-on-Hudson who officially proclaimed June 10, 2021 Harriet Josephine Terry Day.

“We are so proud of Harriet’s accomplishments; her 40 years of teaching show her true service, and at the end of the day, she lived a life filled with paying it forward,” said Kane. “For all that, Cornwall will be forever grateful and honored for her.”

That appreciation lives on today in one of Terry’s greatest passions, teaching and the priority she placed upon education. Terry Dade, Superintendent of Schools, District of Cornwall, lent remarks about the impact of Terry’s commitment to learning as well as reputable longevity as an educator.

“It’s important to reflect on occasions like this; not only was Harriet Josephine Terry the first African-American to graduate from Cornwall, but she did so as an Honor Student in several subjects,” affirmed Dade. “She then went on to greatness at Howard University as well as an educator for over 40 years, touching lives forever.” Reflecting further, Dade added, “I just know Ms. Terry is looking down at us right now and saying a job well done.”

A 2019 Cornwall Hall of Fame distinguished alumnae of Cornwall-on-Hudson inductee, Terry, also a songwriter, community leader as well as groundbreaking pioneer on multiple levels, has been recognized for her inspiring, trailblazer social change contributions by the small town in the past. This newly unveiled Historical Marker will now provide even further testament to her lasting legacy, both here in the Hudson Valley and far beyond.

“Harriet Josephine Terry left an indelible mark on the country,” said New York State Senator, James Skoufis, who pointed to the specific subjects, such as Botany, Greek History, and Plane Geometry Terry excelled at while at Cornwall-on-Hudson High School. “Now, we know the indelible mark she left on Cornwall.”