By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA News Wire Contributor
The Black Press lost one of it’s most celebrated warriors when George Curry, veteran journalist and former Editor-In-Chief of the NNPA News Wire, died from an apparent heart attack on Saturday, August 20. Curry was 69.
“On behalf of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), we are all saddened and heartbroken by the sudden passing of one our most admired, respected, and gifted colleagues, George E. Curry,” said NNPA President Dr. Benjamin Chavis. “Black America, and in fact millions of African people all over the world, had come to know George Curry as a fearless scholar and writer, who used his pen and wit to aggressively advance the cause of freedom, justice and equality for Black people and for the whole of humanity.”
Chavis continued: “George was our trusted comrade on the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement and on the front pages of the Black Press of America. We will miss him.”
Washington Informer Publisher and NNPA Chair Denise Rolark Barnes said that it was hard to believe that Curry has passed away. Curry led the NNPA News Wire as Editor-In-Chief from 2003 to 2007 and then from 2012 to 2015. Barnes called Curry a giant in the journalism profession.
“As publisher of ‘The Washington Informer,’ I admired George’s leadership as Editor-In-Chief of ‘Emerge,’ the preeminent monthly news magazine targeting issues impacting African-Americans,” Rolark Barnes said. “George’s uncompromising, journalistic leadership delivered on the magazine’s promise to produce edgy, hard-hitting, intellectual, well-written and thoroughly researched content that attracted national attention and left an indelible mark on the lives of many.
As a member and now chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, I was honored to carry George’s weekly column in ‘The Washington Informer’ and to work with him while he served as Editor-In-Chief of the NNPA News Wire. George provided so much of his time, energy, wisdom and incredible journalistic genius to the Black Press,” she said.
Freddie Allen, the managing editor of the NNPA News Wire, called Curry an icon in the Black Press and said that his legacy of mentoring young journalists will bear fruit for many years to come.
Recently, Allen and Curry were part of a Black media delegation that worked with the Black AIDS Institute to cover the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.
“George taught me what it meant to be a professional journalist and also about the importance of working in the Black Press,” Allen said. “His writing and insight on critical issues affecting the Black community will be sorely missed. I’m thankful for the time we spent together in Durban.”
Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute said that he was still coming to grips with the loss.
“It’s been really difficult. George and Ann went with us to the 21st International AIDS Conference last month in Durban, South Africa,” said Wilson. “It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”
Wilson continued: “I will always remember George for his integrity. He and I met around 13 years ago over a conversation around gay marriage. I remember how willing he was to listen and then to act on the things he heard. He understood that multiple things can happen in the same space in the Black community, and that we can work together without needing to agree on the same thing. He demonstrated to me the importance of being committed to progress and to moving forward and bringing all of our communities with us and not leaving anybody behind.”
Wilson said the next issue of the Black AIDS Institute newsletter will be dedicated to George and four of the last articles he wrote will be republished. Also, the entire BlackAIDS.org website will be converted as a tribute to George Curry.
Curry was a consummate journalist with integrity as his mantra, said Dorothy R. Leavell, publisher of the Crusader newspapers in Chicago, Ill., and Gary, Ind.
“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,” Leavell said.
“What was ironic is that 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.’
Leavell said that she’s sure that George meant to keep that pledge and now maybe that closeness of his family will become a reality, but at a large cost, adding that she hoped his family would reunite at his funeral.
“We miss you already, George,” said Leavell.
Cloves Campbell, the publisher of the Arizona Informant, said that Curry was the epitome of a real journalist.
“He always told me that the real story wasn’t what everyone was talking about, but really what everyone wasn’t saying. He knew that there was always more to the story,” said Campbell. “George was always encouraging young people to get involved in the Black Press, understanding the need to cultivate the future.”
Curry left the NNPA News Wire in 2007 and when Campbell served as Chairman of the NNPA, he picked up the phone and called George and asked him to come back to run the news wire in 2012.
“I told him that Danny Bakewell resuscitated NNPA and now it was his turn to revive the wire service and he did it without hesitation,” said Campbell. “I will always remember how willing he was to help me and the NNPA. He was a friend and a brother to me.”
The news of Curry’s death not only reverberated throughout Black media, the loss was also felt in the halls of government.
“The Congressional Black Caucus 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,” CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), said in a statement. “Curry was a giant in journalism and he stood on the frontlines 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.”
Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton even took a moment from her busy campaign to express her thoughts about Curry, whom she called a friend.
“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,” Clinton said in a statement. “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.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton called Curry a “trailblazer” and said he was “saddened beyond words” at news of Curry’s death.
In 2003, Curry was named “Journalist of the Year” by the National Association of Black Journalists and he’s also on NABJ’s list of the Most Influential Black Journalists of the 20th Century.
“We pledge to keep the journalistic genius and spirit of George Curry alive in all that we will do in the future to sustain the liberating and empowering voice of Black-owned newspapers and media companies,” Chavis said. “George and I were life-long friends and co-workers at the NNPA, NAACP, SCLC, ANC and just about every other national and international organization that is serious about demanding justice and equality.”
Chavis continued: “The legacy of freedom fighter journalists like George Curry will never pass away, but will always be kept dear and present in our continued struggles to liberate all from injustice.”