ATLANTA -- It was a home-going salute and celebration of life to honor a heavyweight Black newsman. Veteran Black press reporter and renowned Civil Rights journalist/activist George Edward Curry, 69, was laid to rest Saturday, Aug. 27, in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“George was a race man,” said Vern Smith, the Atlanta bureau chief for Newsweek Magazine from 1979 to 2002 who knew Curry for 35 years. “He was a journalist but he came out of this place, Tuscaloosa, and he grew up in the shadow of ‘The Movement’. He brought that kind of hard-nose, search for the truth to journalism.”
Dr. Charles Steele Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), grew up with Curry in the segregated South during the Jim Crow era. They were teammates and best friends on the Druid High School football team. In their professional lives, Curry served as a key advisor, speechwriter, and confidant for Steele as well as a trusted companion on international trips.
“George Curry was to me, as president of SCLC, as Rev. Ralph Abernathy was to Dr. King,” said Steele. “That’s what George Curry was to me. We were very close; we were partners. He said we were on the same journey but we are in different lanes, so why not strategically create a boulevard for us to travel together. And, that’s what we did for the last 15 years. We were always together. We talked every day. We were teammates in the civil rights movement playing different positions in the pursuit of justice and equality for the least of these, our people.”
Curry was highly regarded nationally and often referred to as the dean of Black Press columnists because of his cachet and riveting weekly commentary in Black newspapers across the country. He was fondly remembered as a legend and iconic journalist. He served two terms as editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s news service. A dozen or more publishers and contemporaries from across the nation attended his funeral.
“What George brought to journalism was an uncompromising sense of Black authenticity,” said Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who served as an editor and columnist at Newsday and is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists. “He kept that when he worked in the white media at the Chicago Tribune and the St. Louis Dispatch, and he kept it when he worked in the Black media. What he taught us, and a lot of us in journalism still haven’t learned it, is that there is no reason why we should compromise. That was his real contribution.”
Curry spent his life writing about issues important to the African American community. In the early ‘90s, he ran Emerge, a provocative political magazine that enjoyed a healthy and robust black readership. He later became the first African American president of the American Society of Magazine Editors. He was also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. In that leadership role, he launched a journalism workshop for teens called the St. Louis Minority Journalism Workshop.
“George Curry was the conscience of Black America in our field,” said Ed Gordon, is an accomplished journalist and host of the BET program Weekly with Ed Gordon. “George was unconscionably Black. He never apologized for it; kept us all pointed to that North Star of righteousness. More than anything, as fantastic of a journalist as he was, George was a better man. He was a great soul.”
The journalism workshop program flourished and eventually came to Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. Curry was the quintessential mentor for a bevy of young, talented Black journalists, as well as a riveting and respected broadcast news commentator on national talk shows.
“We are at a pivotal moment,” opined Dr. Benjamin Chavis, a civil rights activist and president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association [NNPA], about the survival of the Black Press. “The good news is that George Curry planted good seeds all over the country. There is a new generation of columnists; there’s some little George Curry’s coming up strong. We have 209 African American owned publications that are still members of the NNPA. They came from all over America today to pay tribute to George Curry.”
News One Now TV host Roland Martin shared a memory of Curry from a 2003 National Association of Black Journalist convention in Dallas, Texas. He said that the two were finished for the day near 2 a.m., but instead of going to bed, Curry sat up later with young aspiring journalists who had questions about the industry. He said Curry was always passionate about helping young people
Activist and television/radio talk show host Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy, saying that Curry was “one of a kind.” He said he experienced a lot of rejection during his career and wasn’t always credited for his work, but he never gave up.
“George never stopped until the very end,” Sharpton said. “He never backed up. He never compromised. He never negotiated his dignity for a contract.
"There were many Black writers that have gone mainstream; but George Curry made mainstream go Black.
"He spanned decades but he embraced his Blackness; he embraced the tradition of a strong and uncompromising voice in Black media as an advocate in telling our story. He did not let the mainstream media make him change.”
Sharpton added during an exclusive interview, “We are at a critical tipping point where they are trying to eliminate the Black Press. We are getting ready for the first time in our history to have a Black succeed a White president. Without a voice we could end up being erased. I think George leaving at a critical time puts a shared burden on all of us.”
At his death, Curry was fervently trying to raise funds to revive Emerge.