Black Press legend George E. Curry, a chronicler and critic of the modern Black American experience, dies suddenly at 69.
BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
TACOMA PARK, MD. – The Black Press lost one of its most celebrated warriors when George E. Curry, veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) News Wire, died from an apparent heart attack on Saturday, Aug. 20. Curry was 69.
He most recently was editor and publisher of EmergeNewsOnline.com, an African-American-oriented news website and monthly digital magazine that provides culturally-sensitive news, information and perspectives.
Through his company, George Curry Media, he provided a weekly column to media outlets around the country as well as columns and articles written by prominent Black civil rights activists.
The Florida Courier and its sister newspaper, the Daytona Times, and many Black-owned newspapers published Curry’s well-researched commentaries and columns for decades.
His last column titled, “Baltimore Cops Routinely Violate Rights of Blacks,” focused on the Department of Justice’s stinging assessment of the Baltimore Police Department in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody.
Curry’s storied career includes his role as editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Emerge magazine from 1993 to 2000. The magazine won more than 40 journalism awards under Curry’s leadership.
From April 2012 to October 2015, he served as editor of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s NNPA News Service, a consortium of more than 200 Black Press members around the country.
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 a journalist, Curry’s work took him to countries all over the world, including 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 U.S. delegation and a presenter at the U.S.-Brazil seminar on educational equity in Brasilia, Brazil. Just last month, he attended and reported on the AIDS International Conference in Durban, South Africa.
George Edward Curry was born on Feb. 23, 1947, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His mother worked as a domestic and his father was a mechanic.
In 1966, Curry moved to New York, where he worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for a year. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in history from Knoxville College in 1970.
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.
He began his journalism career as a reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine in 1970, the second African-American hired by the publication. He then worked as a beat reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch until 1983.
In 1977, he founded the St. Louis Minority Journalism Workshop, a training program for aspiring high school journalists. Seven years later, he became founding director of the Washington Association of Black Journalists’ annual high school journalism workshop.
Curry also worked for the Chicago Tribune as a Washington correspondent, covering political stories such as Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign. From 1989 until 1993, Curry was the New York bureau chief of the Tribune.
Didn’t back down
“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,” Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper.
“His dispatches did not sit well with some of his white colleagues. They challenged his objectivity and integrity. But George did not back down. He helped pave the way for other journalists of color to do their jobs without questions and doubts.”
Curry then became editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine until it folded in 2003. 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.
Impact on Clinton
He was 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 ½ 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.
His name is as prominent among civil rights circles as among journalists. He traveled with Jackson and appeared weekly to do commentary on the radio show of the Rev. Al Sharpton, “Keepin’ It Real.”
He 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.
Recognized and appreciated
In 2000, 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.
In January 2016, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, the nation’s leading advocate for minority advancement in communications.
Curry is also 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.
When he died, he was raising money to fully fund EmergeNewsOnline.com, the digital version of the former paper magazine.
Curry’s homegoing service is set for Aug. 27 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Information from the Trice Edney News Wire and NNPA News Wire contributor Stacy M. Brown was used to prepare this report.