By Hazel Trice Edney, TriceEdneyWire
Pioneering Civil rights and Black political journalist George E. Curry, the reputed dean of Black press columnists because of his riveting weekly commentary in Black newspapers across the country, died suddenly of heart failure on Saturday, August 20. He was 69.
Rumors of his death circulated heavily in journalistic circles on Saturday night until it was confirmed by Dr. Bernard Lafayette, MLK confidant and chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference shortly before midnight.
“This is a tragic loss to the movement because George Curry was a journalist who paid special attention to civil rights because he lived it and loved it,” Lafayette said through his spokesman Maynard Eaton, SCLC national communications director.
Curry’s connection to the SCLC was through his longtime childhood friend, confidant and ally in civil rights, Dr. Charles Steele, SCLC president. Lafayette said Dr. Steele was initially too distraught to make the announcement himself and was also awaiting notification of Curry’s immediate family.
Steele and Curry grew up together in Tuscaloosa, Ala. where Curry bloomed as a civil rights and sports writer as Steele grew into a politician and civil rights leader.
Curry began his journalism career at Sport Illustrated, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and then the Chicago Tribune. But he is perhaps best known for his editorship of the former Emerge Magazine and more recently for his work as editor-in-chief for the National Newspaper Publishers Association from 2000-2007 and again from 2012 until last year.
His name is as prominent among civil rights circles as among journalists. He traveled with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and appeared weekly to do commentary on the radio show of the Rev. Al Sharpton, “Keepin’ It Real.”
Friends, fellow journalists and many of the people that Curry touched throughout his career took to social media to share their condolences.
STATEMENT BY DOROTHY R. LEAVELL, PUBLISHER OF THE CRUSADER NEWSPAPERS, CHICAGO, IL AND GARY, IN REGARDING GEORGE CURRY’S DEATH
George Curry was the consummate journalist with integrity as his mantra. We shall miss this voice of reason and thought-provoking columns full of researched facts. It was just the week of August 13th that George wrote a column titled “Even Funerals Are Not Family Reunions Anymore.” He used his family as an example of the loss of closeness that he had enjoyed during his childhood and early adult life and bemoaned the fact that at his cousin Charlene’s funeral the week before that closeness was no longer there. What was ironic he pledged that he would try to get his family back together by saying, ”Neither Big Mama nor Aunt Julia Mae would be pleased that our once close-knit family is in shambles. But as long as I have breath in me, I am going to try to get my family back together. I know it’s a very long shot, but I owe that to Big Mama and Aunt Julia Mae to keep trying.” I’m sure George meant to keep that pledge and perhaps the closeness of his family will become a reality, but at a large cost. It will perhaps be at the funeral of George Curry. We miss you already George.
CBC Chairman G. K. Butterfield’s Statement on the Legacy of George E. Curry
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) released the following statement upon hearing news of the passing of esteemed journalist, George E. Curry:
“The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) joins with members of the press from around the country to mourn the loss of George E. Curry, a pioneer in Civil Rights and journalism.
“A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Curry was an esteemed journalist with a career that spanned decades. He was highly regarded as the Dean of Black journalists for his unique perspective and engagement during the height of the Civil Rights era, and his weekly commentaries continued to enjoy wide circulation until his untimely death.
“Curry started his career in journalism at Sports Illustrated and later wrote for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune. He would later serve in a series of lead editor roles including his tenure with Emerge Magazine and more recently as the Editor-in-Chief with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and as the editor and publisher of EmergeNewsOnline.com, which highlighted African American news from around the country.
“George E. Curry was a giant in journalism and he stood on the front lines of the Civil Rights era and used his voice to tell our stories when others would not. The CBC offers our sympathies and condolences to his friends and family, his readers from around the country, and to the countless number of individuals he mentored in the art of reporting and journalistic writing until his untimely death.”
Hillary Clinton Statement on the Passing of George E. Curry
Today, following news of the death of George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of the National Newspapers Publishing Association, publisher of Emerge magazine, and a pioneering African-American journalist, Hillary Clinton released the following statement:
“I am saddened by the loss of an outstanding journalist and supportive friend. George E. Curry was a pioneering journalist, a tireless crusader for justice, and a true agent of change. With quality reporting, creativity, and skillful persuasion he influenced countless people, including me, to think beyond their narrow experience and expand their understanding. George may be gone, but he will not be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones.”
Statement by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on the Passing of Veteran Journalist George Curry
BATON ROUGE, La., Aug. 21, 2016 – George Curry was a talented, tough, tenacious reporter and editor. Journalism has lost a giant. I have lost a dear friend.
George, however, never let friendship or anything else temper or soften his approach to a story. He called it like he saw it every single time. Whether it was international affairs, war and peace, civil rights, gender equality, presidential politics, he had a wide range and a good, objective and scientific mind.
He cared deeply about fair employment, fair access to education and everything else the American Dream has to offer. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1947, George experienced firsthand the evils of segregation and racism. He never let it stop him.
I first met George about 35 years ago when he was a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. It was in St. Louis where he co-founded a program to mentor and train young minority journalists, the next generation of freedom fighters with keyboards and the truth. George loved to give back.
George covered my first presidential campaign in 1984 for the Chicago Tribune. Along with Ken Walker, Sylvester Monroe and a few others, George was part of the first wave of African American journalists to finally be allowed to cover a presidential campaign for the so-called mainstream press. George and the others were eminently qualified but had never been afforded the opportunity until then.
The campaign was drawing big and enthusiastic crowds. George reported what he saw. His dispatches did not sit well with some of his white colleagues. They challenged his objectivity and integrity. It almost came to blows. But George did not back down. He stood tall. He helped pave the way for other journalists of color to do their jobs without the questions and doubts.
George and I traveled the world together for decades – Europe, Asian, the Middle East, Africa, including Nelson Mandela’s funeral. George could do it all. His stint as editor of Emerge magazine is legendary. He was a proud and tireless advocate of the black press, serving two tours as editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s news service.
I talked with George’s family this morning to express my shock and sorrow at his passing at age 69. But I also expressed my joy and great fortune at knowing him as an outstanding journalist and a friend.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Founder and President
Rainbow PUSH Coalition
— Roy S. Johnson (@roysj) August 21, 2016
I am saddened beyond words upon hearing of the death of George Curry, Publisher of Emerge Magazine. He was a giant and trailblazer. RIP.
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) August 21, 2016
#GeorgeCurry was dedicated to the Black Press. He believed in the need for a strong, independent Black media.
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) August 21, 2016
When he died he was raising money to fully fund Emerge News Online, a digital version of the former paper magazine. He had also continued to distribute his weekly column to Black newspapers.
Few details of his death were readily available Sunday morning. Reactions and memorial information will be forthcoming. The following is his edited speaker’s biography as posted on the website of America’s Program Bureau:
George E. Curry is former editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. The former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, Curry also writes a weekly syndicated column for NNPA, a federation of more than 200 African American newspapers.
Curry, who served as editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service from 2001 until 2007, returned to lead the news service for a second time on April 2, 2012.
His work at the NNPA has ranged from being inside the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases to traveling to Doha, Qatar, to report on America’s war with Iraq.
As editor-in-chief of Emerge, Curry led the magazine to win more than 40 national journalism awards. He is most proud of his four-year campaign to win the release of Kemba Smith, a 22-year-old woman who was given a mandatory sentence of 24 1/2 years in prison for her minor role in a drug ring. In May 1996, Emerge published a cover story titled “Kemba’s Nightmare.” President Clinton pardoned Smith in December 2000, marking the end of her nightmare.
Curry is the author of Jake Gaither: America’s Most Famous Black Coach and editor of The Affirmative Action Debate and The Best of Emerge Magazine. He was editor of the National Urban League’s 2006 State of Black America report. His work in journalism has taken him to Egypt, England, France, Italy, China, Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, Cuba, Brazil, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Mexico, Canada, and Austria. In August 2012, he was part of the official US delegation and a presenter at the USBrazil seminar on educational equity in Brasilia, Brazil. George Curry is a member of the National Speakers Association and the International Federation for Professional Speakers.
His speeches have been televised on C-SPAN and reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day magazine. In his presentations, he addresses such topics as diversity, current events, education, and the media. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Curry graduated from Druid High School before enrolling at Knoxville College in Tennessee. At Knoxville, he was editor of the school paper, quarterback and co-captain of the football team, a student member of the school’s board of trustees, and attended Harvard and Yale on summer history scholarships.
While working as a Washington correspondent for The Chicago Tribune, he wrote and served as chief correspondent for the widely praised television documentary Assault on Affirmative Action, which was aired as part of PBS’ Frontline series. He was featured in a segment of One Plus One, a national PBS documentary on mentoring. Curry was part of the weeklong Nightline special, America in Black and White. He has also appeared on CBS Evening News, ABC’s World News Tonight, The Today Show, 20/20, Good Morning America, CNN, C-SPAN, BET, Fox Network News, MSNBC, and ESPN. After delivering the 1999 commencement address at Kentucky State University, he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters.
In May 2000, Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, also presented Curry with an honorary doctorate after his commencement speech. Later that year, the University of Missouri presented Curry with its Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, the same honor it had earlier bestowed on such luminaries as Joseph Pulitzer, Walter Cronkite, John H. Johnson, and Winston Churchill. In 2003, the National Association of Black Journalists named Curry Journalist of the Year.
Curry became the founding director of the St. Louis Minority Journalism Workshop in 1977. Seven years later, he became founding director of the Washington Association of Black Journalists’ annual high school journalism workshop. In February 1990, Curry organized a similar workshop in New York City. While serving as editor of Emerge, Curry was elected president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, the first African American to hold the association’s top office.
Before taking over as editor of Emerge, Curry served as New York bureau chief and as Washington correspondent for The Chicago Tribune. Prior to joining The Tribune, he worked for 11 years as a reporter for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and for two years as a reporter for Sports Illustrated.
Curry is chairman of the board of directors of Young DC, a regional teen-produced newspaper; immediate past chairman of the Knoxville College board of trustees; and serves on the board of directors of the Kemba N. Smith Foundation and St. Paul Saturdays, a leadership training program for young African American males in St. Louis. Curry was also a trustee of the National Press Foundation, chairing a committee that funded more than 15 workshops modeled after the one he directed in St. Louis.