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Wednesday 7 December 2022
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More Than Words: The Life and Legacy of George Curry, Media Titan

Op/Ed By Marc Morial

 

Mark_Morial(TriceEdneyWire.com) – “In the grand struggle for liberty and equality now waging, it is meet, right, and essential that there should arrive in our ranks authors and editors as well as orators, for it is in these capacities that the most permanent good can be rendered to our cause.” – Federick Douglass, American Civil Rights Activist, December 3, 1847

Activists come in all shapes, sizes and skintones. Not surprisingly, you will find as much variety when it comes time for that activist to select his or her weapon of choice. For the good of our nation, George E. Curry—a veteran journalist and longtime champion of the Black press—chose the pen. In his various roles as a reporter, editor-in-chief, commentator and mentor, George proved that the pen could indeed wield a might greater than the sword. From the day he became an editor at his hometown, Alabama high school paper, to the sad day in August when he would finally rest his pen down for good, he used that pen everyday of his working life to deliver to our nation unapologetic and unflinching analysis and perspective on the lives and stories of the underserved, the oppressed, the forgotten and the ignored.

For decades, George—widely hailed as the “dean of Black press columnists”—covered issues of  vital importance to African Americans. He loomed as large a figure in the world of Civil Rights activism as he did in the world of media and journalism. In fact, for George, the two were inextricably interwined. For a man laden with so many awards and achievements, one of his greatest achievements was his tireless work that led to the release of Kemba Smith. For four years, George trained his time, energy and talent on Kemba, a 22-year-old college student who was sentenced to 24 years in prison under mandatory minimums because of a minor role she played in her boyfriend’s drug trafficking ring. His journalism and his persistance brought much-needed attention to Kemba’s plight. Her story—largely ignored by mainstream press outlets—became his cause. In 2000, his work led to Kemba receiving a pardon from President Bill Clinton.

From “Freedom’s Journal,” the first African-American owned and operated newspaper in the United buy clonazepam States founded in 1827, to the magazines, websites and podcasts of today, like George, many in the Black press understand that our stories—stories like Kemba Smith’s story—won’t be told—or advocated for—unless Black people have a platform to tell those stories of injustice. In an interview with Jet Magazine, George shared that no event in his life had been “more transforming than the murder of Emmett Till. And Jet captured it like nobody else. When you saw those pictures, Jet brought it home.”

George understood what Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells-Barnett and countless other African American journalists before him (and after him) understood: that the Black press is not only a vehicle to note the achievements of Black people in America, but for so many years it was the only vehicle that would note our very existence, and it was, and has always been, the vehicle best suited to “plead our cause.”

Like so many others, I am deeply saddened and shocked by the passing of a great man, a great friend and a true supporter of the National Urban League. In 2013, George sat on a panel for our State of Black America web series to discuss the present role of Black media in our society. In 2015, he joined our web series again to discuss criminal justice reform. You can visit stateofblackamerica.org to watch both his panels.

At the time of his death, George was raising money to reestablish Emerge News Online, the web version of Emerge Magazine, a public-affairs magazine where he was editor-in-chief from 1993 to 2000. The magazine, which provided a platform for exceptional Black writers, was not his only means of discovering upcoming talent. George founded workshops and estalished journalism organizations and training programs to find and foster the talented minds who would one day become our “authors and editors as well as our orators.” Having spent a lifetime bringing young people into journalism, I rest assured that the final chapters of his legacy remains to be written.

My prayers are with his family, his loved ones, and the Black press—an institution George cherished so dearly.

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