Sharpton eulogizes Black journalist George E. Curry
BY HAZEL TRICE EDNEY
TRICE EDNEY NEWS WIRE
Editor’s note: Click here to view a pictorial slideshow of Curry’s homegoing service photographed and edited by Florida Courier Publisher Charles W. Cherry II.
TUSCALOOSA, ALA. – One minute the congregation was somber and in tears; the next minute they were rocking to choir music; the next minute they were laughing in fond memory; and then they were shouting and applauding on their feet.
That was the range of emotions that marked the packed house during the “Celebration of Life” for legendary journalist George E. Curry at Weeping Mary Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Aug. 27.
The Rev. Al Sharpton gave a eulogy of the Black press journalist, columnist, commentator and editor that soared from a touching and sometimes humorous tribute to a fiery sermon that shook the sanctuary. Sharpton’s message pointed largely to how Black journalists and media owners must now escalate their voices as they continue “telling the story.”
“There were many Black writers that have gone mainstream. But George Curry made mainstream go Black,” said Sharpton to applause. “He was smart enough to play the game and stay in certain newsrooms. But he chose not to do that because he chose the path of why the Black Press started in the first place.”
Sharpton was alluding to the first Black Press editorial, published in the 1827 inaugural edition of Freedom’s Journal newspaper. That editorial stated, “We wish to plead our own cause. For too long have others spoken for us.”
Curry, who died of heart failure Aug. 20, started his career at Sports Illustrated, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune. But he found his calling in the Black Press.
He was editor-in-chief of his beloved Emerge Magazine for seven years until it went defunct. Then he became editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) News Service of “the Black Press of America.” When he died, he had founded Emergenewsonline.com, a digital version of the hard copy magazine, which he never gave up hope to revive.
Curry’s fiancée, Elizabeth “Ann” Ragland, looked on from the audience. Earlier, she spoke about how much Curry loved his family, especially his mother Mrs. Martha Brownlee, and reflected on his contagious sense of humor.
Recalling Curry’s final moments, she said, “On last Saturday, my voice was the last person that George heard as I tried to keep him here with us. But there was a voice much stronger than mine, a voice…that even George Curry could not say no to…That voice is going to speak to us all.”
‘We need it now’
Dozens of Black publishers, writers, photographers, former interns and mentees, mostly from NNPA, took up the first two pews of the church. The sanctuary was also packed with hundreds of people, including his family and Tuscaloosa residents who came to say farewell to their hometown hero.
“George Curry left us in a critical time in history,” Sharpton said. “In five months will be the first time in American history that we will see a White succeed a Black president. We’ve never been here before…which means those of us who write the story are going to have to follow a script that’s never been written before. If we ever needed a strong independent, but ethical Black Press, we’re going to need it now,” he said.
Reflecting on his friendship with Curry, who appeared on the last hour of his daily radio show every Friday – including the day before he died – Sharpton said, “George never knew that he was much more of a minister to me than I was to him.”
Still, Curry held even his political and civil rights friends accountable.
No ‘cheap way out’
“He never let his friendship interfere with his journalism. He would write against us and praise us the next week if we earned it,” Sharpton said. “…(T)he ones that really respect you are the ones that respect you enough to correct you because they don’t give you a cheap way out. And that’s what George would do.”
Sharpton said it was Curry’s courage that marked his unique style of reporting and column writing.
“Progress has never been as a result of people who didn’t take risks. George knew he wasn’t going to benefit by telling Kemba’s story. He knew he’d lose advertisers. He knew he wouldn’t be on “Face the Nation” if he put a handkerchief on Clarence Thomas’ head.”
The audience applauded vigorously at the recognition of both the Kemba Smith and Clarence Thomas stories, which appeared on the cover of Emerge.
Smith, who called Curry her “hero”, was among the speakers, which also included journalists Ed Gordon and Roland Martin.
NNPA President/CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis and SCLC President/CEO Dr. Charles Steele also spoke.
A childhood friend and Tuscaloosa native, Steele also presided at the funeral and the memorial service the night before, where the keynote speaker was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
‘Finished my course’
Sharpton preached from II Timothy 4:6-7, 11-13 when Paul, knowing his death was near, said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith!”
But then, Sharpton preached, Paul told Timothy to bring certain things to the jail.
“Bring my books and bring my papers because I did what the rest of the Apostles didn’t do. I wrote the story. And the story would be distorted unless we that lived the story, wrote the story!”
He admonished Black journalists and publishers, “Keep telling the story…George never stopped.
Until the very end, he never backed up and he never compromised. And he never negotiated his dignity for a contract or for a favor. That’s why when we say ‘so long’, we’ve lost something that we’ll never see that way again. George Curry was part of a long tradition. But he was one of a kind.’”
‘We Shall Overcome’
Mrs. Martha Brownlee, Curry’s beloved mother, who had wept in mourning for her only son as she visited the casket, ended the service dancing in his honor as Sharpton preached and the organ punctuated his message.
“I come to Tuscaloosa to tell you that George won’t be laying in the cemetery. George has got to go through the cemetery. But George is on his way home now. He fought a good fight! He kept the faith! He finished his course!”
As a final reflection and recognition of the continued struggle at hand, the congregation locked arms and sang the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”