June Terry: Making Black history and style

MAITEFA ANGAZA | 4/12/2011, 4:38 p.m.
June (Ferandun) Terry is a dynamically creative senior who brings Black history to stylish life...
June Terry: Making Black history and style

June (Ferandun) Terry is a dynamically creative senior who brings Black history to stylish life each day of the year. She's worked for decades as a clothing designer, African fashion and textiles consultant and off-Broadway costumer and set designer. Her work as a costumer can currently be seen in the play "Know Thy Enemy." An AP interview with Terry was aired last month in which she shared her reflections as she prepared to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

You may have seen Terry around town--perhaps at a cultural or political function or out dancing with friends on a weeknight. At age 78, she gets around and turns heads wherever she goes, always dressed impeccably and crowned by her signature white afro. In fact, Terry made Black history as the first model to wear an Afro in a print publication (Ebony magazine, 1968). In 1970, Terry's affinity for her heritage was acknowledged when she was given the name, "Ferandun" (meaning "love") by Nana Yao Opare Dinizulu, a venerated African music, dance and religion pioneer here in New York.

Not everyone back then connected with Africa, and even among those who did, some declined to adopt an outward symbol of heritage such as the Afro or dashiki. Terry worked at many fashion shows where she was the lone person in traditional African garb. "Oh, it was something else!" she recalls. "There were a few instances where the other models refused to have me in the dressing room with them because my hair wasn't pressed and I was wearing African clothes," she says laughing. "And after all that, I'd usually get the loudest applause!"

Black women who did publicly embrace their culture were encouraged by Terry's striking and tasteful presentation, her confidence and her pride. Black beauty was not celebrated on billboards or in television ads, so it was to women such as Cicely Tyson, Odetta, Rosalind Cash, Paula Kelly and June Terry that they turned for validation and inspiration.

The fabulous Terry wasn't always a fashion and style leader, however. Born in Spring Lake, New Jersey, and raised in Washington, D.C., Terry moved to Brooklyn in the 1940s and later worked as a nurse and in banking. Through those years, she reared five girls and one son, making sure that they were widely exposed to what the environment had to offer, from attending the best public schools in the city to participating in protest marches on Washington. Her son is now a diving instructor for the Los Angeles Fire Department, and two of her daughters, twins Yvonne and Yvette, have long worked as petite-size models for major magazines, supplementing their incomes as marketing and advertising executives. (Look for a brief profile on them in the March issue of O magazine.)

As Terry's name became known across the country, she developed a following and was able to travel and meet people far and wide. She remembers, for example, the time "in 1969 or 1970" that Jimi Hendrix came to her dressing room at Manhattan Center, saying, "Someone told me the lady from the magazine was here and I just had to meet you!" "Of course, I was thrilled to meet him also because I so admired his talent!" she says. "He asked if it was alright if he went back and got some of his band members who also wanted to meet me. We all spent a couple of hours talking and laughing. Later, I stood in the wings watching as he performed and he dedicated a song to me. It was a wonderful moment!"