Esther Alexander Terry was a major contributor to the development of Black Studies; Esther Terry holds a B.A. from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, a M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she has had a long career as both a faculty member and as an administrator.
Esther first arrived at UMass in 1965 and, except for a brief stint at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina, has worked to develop the UMass campus into the premier research university it is today. A founding faculty member of the Du Bois Department, Esther was tapped to serve as its sixth Chair in 1988, a position she held until 2007.
Under her leadership, the department inaugurated a Ph.D. program in 1996, the second doctoral program in Afro-American Studies to be established in the country. Esther’s administrative responsibilities have included Associate Provost for Faculty Relations from 1978 to 1983. She has also been Associate Director and Co-Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities. In 2005, she was appointed Associate Chancellor, with responsibility for oversight of the Chancellor’s Action Plan which sought to make the UMass Amherst campus more inclusive. In 2009 she served as Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and in 2010 she became the Provost of her alma mater, Bennett College.
As an undergraduate in Bennet College in the 1950s, Terry was deeply involved with the Civil Rights movement, and participated in the Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter sit-in. The famous sit-in was in response to four African American college students being denied service after sitting at a "whites only" counter. This sit-in drew national attention and helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge inequality throughout the South. The sit-in lasted for six months and drew hundreds of community members participated. The protest ultimately led to the desegregation of the lunch counter on July 25, 1960.