When it came to delivering hard-hitting journalism and thought provoking commentary, from a Black perspective, there was none greater than George E. Curry.
Curry, who has been a veteran journalist on the frontlines for civil rights for decades, passed away suddenly in the Washington, D.C. area on Saturday, August 20. He was 69.
According to Hazel Trice Edney, publisher of the Trice Edney News Wire, Ann Ragland, Curry’s fiancée and closest confidant, drove him to the Washington Adventist Hospital emergency room after he called her complaining of chest pains Saturday afternoon. He insisted that she take him instead of calling an ambulance. She said he remained conscience throughout the cardiac tests and the doctor assured her he would be fine. But his heart took a sudden turn. She said the doctor tried to explain to her that the turn was totally unexpected. “He said, ‘He was okay, but then his heart just stopped.’”
At the time of his death, Curry was in the process of reviving an online version of Emerge magazine, the popular monthly news magazine where he served as editor-in-chief and was published from 1989 to 2000, with a primary focus on issues of interest to African Americans. In 2000, Time magazine referred to Emerge as “the nation’s best Black news magazine for the past seven years.”
Christie Love, sister of Curry, shared the news of his death on Sunday via Facebook.
“It is with deep regret to inform everyone that my brother, George passed away earlier today,” said his sister Christie Love from her Facebook page. “It was a shock to our family and we are dealing with the news, as best we can. R.I.P. brother George Curry.”
According to Edney, Curry’s death was confirmed by Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and major leader in the Civil Rights Movement.
“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,” said Lafayette through his spokesman Maynard Eaton, SCLC national communications director.
Longtime childhood friend, confidant and ally in civil rights, Dr. Charles Steele, who from 2004 to 2009, served as the National President and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was initially too distraught to make the announcement himself and was also awaiting notification of Curry’s immediate family before announcing his death, according to Dr. Lafayette. Curry’s connection to the SCLC was through Dr. Steele, who grew up with him in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where Curry bloomed as a civil rights and sports writer, and Steele grew into a politician and civil rights leader.
Several prominent figures chimed in on the death of this journalistic giant and civil rights icon.
Democratic presidential nominee 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.”
NNPA President Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. wrote:
“On behalf of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) we pause with great sorrow, sadness, respect and sympathy at the sudden death of our beloved colleague, George E. Curry. Funeral arrangements are still being planned in George’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We will keep you informed. Our prayers are with George’s family and loved ones.”
Many took to Twitter to express their thoughts.
The Reverend Al Sharpton tweeted, “I am saddened beyond words upon hearing of the death of George Curry, Publisher of Emerge Magazine. He was a giant and trailblazer. RIP.”
Former NAACP President Ben Jealous tweeted, “Mourning the passing of our big brother #GeorgeCurry. We covered 9/11 together for the @NNPA_BlackPress. Learning from him was an honor.”
TV One “NewsOne Now” host Roland Martin tweeted, “#GeorgeCurry was dedicated to the Black Press. He believed in the need for a strong, independent Black 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. 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.
Before taking over as editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, Curry served as New York bureau chief and as Washington correspondent for The Chicago Tribune, where 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.
Prior to joining The Tribune, Curry worked for 11 years as a reporter for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and for two years as a reporter for Sports Illustrated.
While serving as editor-in-chief of Emerge, Curry led the magazine to win more than 40 national journalism awards, and was elected president of the American Society of Magazine Editors – the first African American to hold the association’s top office.
After Emerge ceased publication, Curry began his work as editor-in-chief for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) News Wire Service from 2000 to 2007, after leaving and rejoining the organization again from 2012 until last year. Curry wrote a weekly syndicated column for the more than 200 African American newspapers and members of the NNPA.
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, ESPN and TV One’s “NewsOne Now” with Roland Martin. Most recently, Curry had been writing weekly columns for his online version of Emerge, and raising money to help grow and revitalize the publication.
Curry had a huge impact on many aspiring journalists, such as this one, and has opened up many doors that would not have been opened without his involvement.
Ragland confirmed that the funeral will be held Saturday, August 27, at 11 am at the Weeping Mary Baptist Church, 2701 20th Street, Tuscaloosa, Ala. Rev. Al Sharpton will give the eulogy. A viewing on Saturday will be from 8:30-11 am. Ragland said a viewing will also be held on Friday evening, Aug. 26, with Rev. Jackson speaking, but the time and venue have not been confirmed by deadline. Additional details will be announced this week.
Having grown up in Tuscaloosa during the height of racial segregation, Curry often said he “fled Alabama” and vowed never to return when he went away to college. However, Ragland said he always told her to return him home to Tuscaloosa upon his death.
The Forward Times is extremely saddened by the tremendous loss of this journalistic giant, and will be sure to provide more details concerning his memorial services once they are finalized.