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J. Terry Edmonds

Speechwriter Terry Edmonds was born on September 9, 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland. The son of Naomi Parker, a waitress, Edmonds grew up in the projects of Baltimore’s inner-city. He spent time in a foster home and his family was on welfare for a number of years, but Edmonds went on to be the first in his family to attend college. He graduated from Morgan State University in 1973, with his B.A. degree in English.

In 1978, Edmonds was hired as a public relations and communications specialist at the Maryland Transit Administration. Then, in 1982, he took a position as director of public relations for Trahan, Burden and Charles Advertising. While working at Trahan, Burden and Charles, Edmonds also served as director of communications at the Joint Center for Political Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank, from 1985 until 1987. In 1987, he was hired as a press secretary in the office of Kweisi Mfume, at that time a newly elected United States representative from Maryland. Edmonds worked in public relations for Macro Systems in 1988, Blue Cross and Blue Shield in 1989, the University Research Corporation in 1990, and R.O.W. Sciences in 1991. Then, in 1993, he was hired as a senior speechwriter for the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala. After serving under Shalala for two years, Edmonds worked as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton in 1995, making him the first African American speechwriter for a United States President. In 1997, Edmonds was promoted to deputy director of speechwriting, and, in 1999, he was appointed by President Clinton as the director of speechwriting and assistant to the president.

In 2002, Edmonds was hired as the director of editorial management at AARP, and, in 2005, he served as the executive speechwriter for Time Warner, Inc. Edmonds then went on to work as a speechwriter for the Corporation for National and Community Service, as well as the senior advisor and speechwriter for NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. He was also appointed associate vice president and editorial director of Columbia University.

Terry Edmonds was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 26, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.266

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/26/2013

Last Name

Edmonds

Maker Category
Middle Name

Terry

Organizations
Schools

Morgan State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

J.

Birth City, State, Country

Baltimore

HM ID

EDM03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Maryland

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beaches

Favorite Quote

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

9/9/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Steamed Crabs

Short Description

Speechwriter and presidential appointee J. Terry Edmonds (1949 - ) was the first African American speechwriter for a United States President.

Employment

Maryland Transit Administration

Trahan, Burden and Charles Advertising

Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

United States House of Representatives

Macro Systems

Blue Cross Blue Shield

University Research Corporation

R.O.W. Sciences

United States Secretary of Health and Human Services

White House

AARP

Time Warner, Inc.

Corporation for National and Community Service

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Columbia University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - J. Terry Edmonds narrates his photographs

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Slating of J. Terry Edmonds' interview

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - J. Terry Edmonds lists his favorites

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his mother's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his mother's childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his father and his step-father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - J. Terry Edmonds recalls moving around Baltimore while growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - J. Terry Edmonds recalls his childhood interests

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - J. Terry Edmonds remembers the Kennedy Assassination, the March on Washington and the moon landing

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about the influence of the "I Have a Dream" speech on his writing

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - J. Terry Edmonds describes the schools he attended during childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - J. Terry Edmonds recalls his childhood love of writing

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - J. Terry Edmonds remembers the day President Kennedy was assassinated

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about reading the black press as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his high school interests

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his high school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - J. Terry Edmonds describes the churches he attended in Baltimore

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about being published at Morgan State University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - J. Terry Edmonds reflects on the influence of Smokey Robinson

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses the poetry scene at Morgan State University

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses the culture of Baltimore

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - J. Terry Edmonds remembers his most influential professor

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - J. Terry Edmonds recalls how his education influenced his writing

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses his poetry and his poetic influences

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his experience at Morgan State University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his first job after graduating from Morgan State University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his early jobs in public relations

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his experience in public relations

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about working in advertising

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - J. Terry Edmonds describes working at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - J. Terry Edmonds describes becoming a speechwriter

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his experience working for public relations consulting firms

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - J. Terry Edmonds describes his entry into the Clinton Administration

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - J. Terry Edmonds remembers becoming a presidential speechwriter

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - J. Terry Edmonds describes the diversity of the Clinton Administration

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his routine as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - J. Terry Edmonds describes the collaborative process of writing speeches for President Bill Clinton

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - J. Terry Edmonds remembers writing emergency statements for President Bill Clinton

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - J. Terry Edmonds recalls advising President Bill Clinton to speak about the Million Man March

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses his favorite speeches for President Bill Clinton, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about gaining access to President Bill Clinton

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - J. Terry Edmonds remembers a compassionate call from President Bill Clinton

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses his favorite speeches for President Bill Clinton, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - J. Terry Edmonds describes the challenges of being a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses President Bill Clinton's Advisory Board on Race

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his promotion to Chief Speechwriter and the 2000 State of the Union address

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about the Monica Lewinsky scandal

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - J. Terry Edmonds reflects on working in the Clinton Administration

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses writing speeches for AARP and the John Kerry campaign

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - J. Terry Edmonds recalls writing speeches for Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons, President Obama, and NASA Director Charles Bolden

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - J. Terry Edmonds reflects on the importance of inner strength

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - J. Terry Edmonds reflects on his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - J. Terry Edmonds shares his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - J. Terry Edmonds talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - J. Terry Edmonds discusses how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

7$3

DATitle
J. Terry Edmonds discusses his favorite speeches for President Bill Clinton, pt. 1
J. Terry Edmonds talks about his routine as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton
Transcript
What was your, I guess, favorite speech for the president [President Bill Clinton], or which one did he think was the--first of all, what did he think (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--Well I think he thought--well, there were so many I wrote for him--literally hundreds. I know whenever I see him, he always talks about the speech that he gave during the 35th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday [March 7, 1965], when he went back to Selma, Alabama to give a speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 35th anniversary of that march which, as you know, resulted in beatings by the State Troopers and [HM] John Lewis almost losing his life. And anyway, he went back on the 35th anniversary and, and gave a speech, and I gave him a refrain that 'We have another bridge to cross.' As long as African Americans are, you know, are not being treated equally, we have another bridge to cross. And he liked that refrain, and he liked that speech. My favorite speech, of course, was when he went to Morgan State University [Baltimore, Maryland] in 1997 to deliver the commencement speech and, you know, I not only had a chance to write that speech, I flew over in the helicopter with him; we flew from the White House to Morgan in Marine One, you know. People say a ticket on Air Force One is, you know, the hottest ticket in town; ticket on the Marine One is even hotter--getting on that helicopter, 'cause it's only about four people on that helicopter with the president. Anyway, I flew over with him. It was a speech about science and ethics in the 21st century, and I think we made a pledge to try to find a cure for AIDS within 10 years. But the highlight moment for me was--and this was something I did not write into the speech--was, you know, when he pointed me out as a graduate of Morgan State University and made me stand up before the graduating class and be acknowledged, and of course you can imagine how I felt; I was very proud, very humbled, and it was just a great moment because my wife was there, family, and of course the faculty and the president of Morgan, you know; they loved me ever since (laughter). So that was, that was a great moment.$$Well would you consider that to be a part of the Clinton--I guess charisma or style? Because so many people we've interviewed who served with President Clinton talk about how he seemed to personally connect with them.$$Yes, yes. He, he, he, he made an effort to connect not only with the staff, but of course with his audience and with the American people and--yeah, that was a special quality that he had.$$Okay. They say like everybody felt like he was their buddy (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--Yes, yes, yes. When you were with him, you felt, you felt like, you know, there was no one else in the room but you and him, and he was very personable and--yeah.$$Okay, okay. So those are two speeches.$How were you--what was your work day like? What was the situation like?$$No two days were alike at the White House, and it was kinda like a 24/7 situation where--you know, this was before the cell phones and, and--we had--but we had beepers; I remember I had a beeper and you had to always be ready for that beeper to go off. I would get to work maybe--I think my first meeting--when I became--you know, I, I started as a sort of a junior speechwriter but after, you know, a couple of years, I was promoted to chief speechwriter, and that day--the days were like--started--my first meeting was 7:45 in the morning; if I got out by Nine at night, that was a good day. Sometimes I would stay there 'til midnight, sometimes all night, and--$$Is this something you understood when you were weighing (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--I think I did; I mean you understand it intellectually, but you can't know it until you actually experience what it's like being on call like that and having to--it's like being a fireman in a way because when something happens in the world, the president has to make an instant statement; you have to, you know, help them craft that statement when, you know--in a very short period of time. So it, it was interesting and I--it was--after you get in there, you know, people say, "Well (unclear), you work in the White House; that must be very glamorous." It's hard work, it's a job, you know. You, you, you, you never--I will say this, I never walked into the Oval Office without a sense of history, that I knew that I was in a special place, and whenever I got to meet with the president, you know, that was always special. But a lotta the work was routine and just grueling and just producing, you know.