Journalism lost an icon on Saturday.
George Curry, a writer, activist and one of the foremost thinkers of his generation, passed away at the age of 69, his sister Christie Love confirmed. Curry, who was a frequent commenter on Lead Story, BET's weekly news and public affairs show, will be remembered as a "champion of the Black press," and someone who tirelessly used his pen and voice to advance the cause of justice for the Black community and nation as a whole.
“It is with deep regret to inform everyone that my brother, George passed away earlier today,” said the message from Love's Facebook account. “It was a shock to our family and we are dealing with the news, as best we can. R.I.P. brother George Curry.”
After graduating Knoxville College in Tennessee, where he was editor of the school paper and quarterback and co-captain of the football team, Curry began his journalism career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Over the years, he served as a reporter for Sports Illustrated, New York bureau chief and Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and a contributing editor and columnist for The St. Louis American.
But the work he would become best known for began when he took on the role of editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine in 1993, and for his work as editor-in-chief for the National Newspaper Publishers Association from 2000-2007 and again from 2012 until last year. Curry led Emerge to win more than 40 national journalism awards. He was also elected president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, the first Black person to hold the association's top office.
“Emerge covered the most important people, topics, and turning points of this remarkable period in penetrating articles by an all-star cast of writers, including Nelson George, Les Payne, Thulani Davis, Ralph Wiley, Jill Nelson, Tananarive Due, and Trey Ellis,” read the cover of 2003's The Best of Emerge Magazine, which Curry edited.
Since October, Curry was focused on relaunching Emerge as a digital magazine to address the growing racial tensions and questions of civil justice of our time. He was dedicated to the notion of Black-owned media, writing to the New York Times just last month, “The larger failure was not addressing the importance of Black-owned and operated media ... The issue is not race or ethnicity per se — it’s an issue of trust. African Americans trust the Black Press and distrust the White-owned corporate media.”
He was also committed to fostering the next generation of journalists of color. According to the St. Louis American, he became the founding director of the St. Louis Minority Journalism Workshop in 1977. Seven years later, he became founding director of the Washington Association of Black Journalists' annual high school journalism workshop and, in February 1990, Curry organized a similar workshop in New York City.
His colleagues and fellow titans of the press — including BET Networks chairperson and CEO Debra Lee, who worked with Curry as publisher of Emerge and at BET — have taken to Twitter to express their grief over the profound loss:
#GeorgeCurry RIP to one of the best. I loved working with George at Emerge and BET. He had a passion for justice & remembering our history.— Debra Lee (@IamDebraLee) August 21, 2016
I am saddened beyond words upon hearing of the death of George Curry, Publisher of Emerge Magazine. He was a giant and trailblazer. RIP.— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) August 21, 2016
Sad news on death of George Curry - crusading journalist who used his words to fight for justice & civil rights. RIP pic.twitter.com/fgSkGPZoRE— Derek T. Dingle (@DTDingle) August 21, 2016
Just heard the news that my dear friend and mentor George Curry has died. I'm devastated.— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) August 21, 2016
Curry's health problems began last year, when he suffered a heart attack after covering and participating in the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama.
“At the urging of ‘Uncle Mike’ Fauvelle of Setauket, N.Y., I am writing about my second close call with death, hoping that it, too, will prompt you to not only pay closer attention to your health, but be aware of the small signs of trouble and do something about it immediately if you sense something is awry,” he wrote at the time.
Our condolences go out to Curry's family, friends and all those whose lives he influenced, whether they realized it or not, in his decades of dedicated service. He will be missed.
(Photo: Tim Grant/WireImage for BET Productions)