(TriceEdneyWire) – Pioneering civil rights and Black political journalist George E. Curry, the widely respected dean of Black press columnists because of his riveting weekly commentary in Black newspapers across the country, died suddenly of heart failure Saturday.

Ann Ragland, Curry’s fiancee and closest confidant, drove him to the Washington Adventist Hospital emergency room after he called her complaining of chest pains Saturday afternoon. He insisted that she take him instead of calling an ambulance. She said he remained conscience throughout the cardiac tests and the doctor assured her he would be fine. But his heart took a sudden turn. She said the doctor tried to explain to her that the turn was totally unexpected.

“He said, ‘He was okay, but then his heart just stopped,’” she reflected.

Curry was 69.

“He stood tall. He helped pave the way for other journalists of color to do their jobs without the questions and doubts,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., with whom Curry traveled extensively. “He was a proud and tireless advocate of the Black press.”

Rumors of Curry’s death circulated heavily in journalistic circles on Saturday night until it was confirmed shortly before midnight by Dr. Bernard Lafayette, chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and once confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“This is a tragic loss to the movement because George Curry was a journalist who paid special attention to civil rights because he lived it and loved it,” Lafayette said through his spokesman, Maynard Eaton, SCLC national communications director.

Curry’s connection to the SCLC was through his longtime childhood friend, confidant and ally in civil rights, Dr. Charles Steele, SCLC president. Lafayette said Dr. Steele was initially too distraught to make the announcement himself and was also awaiting notification of Curry’s immediate family.

Steele and Curry grew up together in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where Curry bloomed as a civil rights and sports writer as Steele grew into a politician and civil rights leader. The two remained life-long friends.

Ragland announced that a viewing is scheduled for Friday evening. A second viewing will be held Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. followed by the funeral at 11 a.m. at the Weeping Mary Baptist Church, 2701 20th St. in Tuscaloosa. The Rev. Al Sharpton will give the eulogy. Jackson is scheduled to speak during the Friday viewing, but the time and venue were not confirmed by deadline.

Having grown up in Tuscaloosa during the height of racial segregation, Curry often said he “fled Alabama” and vowed never to return when he went away to college. However, Ragland said he always told her to return him home to Tuscaloosa upon his death.

Additional details will be announced this week.

The early years

The early years

Curry was born Feb. 23, 1947 in Tuscaloosa. He graduated from Druid High School and enrolled at Knoxville College in Tennessee. He was editor of the school paper, quarterback and co-captain of the football team, and a student member of the school’s board of trustees. He also attended Harvard and Yale on summer history scholarships.

After graduating, he was hired as a reporter for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 11 years and Sports Illustrated for a couple of years.

In 1977, Curry authored Jake Gaither: America’s Most Famous Black Coach.

He earned an Excellence in Journalism award from the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists, 1982.

In 1983, he served as New York bureau chief and as Washington correspondent for The Chicago Tribune. During that time, he wrote and served as chief correspondent for the widely praised television documentary Assault on Affirmative Action, which was aired as part of PBS’ Frontline series. In 1984, he covered the presidential election in which Jesse Jackson Sr. became the second Black man to run for the office of commander-in-chief.

He was also featured in a segment of One Plus One, a national PBS documentary on mentoring.

Curry was part of the weeklong Nightline special, America in Black and White that aired in 1989.

In 1993, Curry became the editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, a 3-year-old magazine that won more than 40 national journalism awards for such stories as Kemba’s Nightmare, The Death of Emmett Till, Farrakhan, Jesse and Jews: Can They All Get Along, Hijacking Justice: The Right-Wing Conspiracy to Control the Courts, Guinea Pigs: Secret Medical Experiments on Blacks, The Final Days of Malcolm X, Rape of a Spelman Coed, Driving While Black, Crime Pays: Cashing in on Black Prisoners, Environmental Racism, Diversity in Prep Schools, Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King? and Growing Up Black in Mississippi.

In 1995, The Washington Association of Black Journalists presented him with the Journalist of the Year award.

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 24.5 years in prison for her minor role in a drug ring. It began in May 1996, when the magazine published a cover story titled Kemba’s Nightmare. President Bill Clinton pardoned Smith in December 2000, marking the end of her nightmare.

He also served as editor of The Affirmative Action Debate in 1996. The book is a collection of politicians, researchers, legal experts and businesspeople disputing best way to fight discrimination and can be found under trusted research and reference material.

Curry 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.

In February 1990, Curry organized a similar workshop in New York City. 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.

After delivering the 1999 commencement address at Kentucky State University, he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters.

In May 2000, Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, also presented Curry with an honorary doctorate after his commencement speech. Later that year, 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.

Emerge published its last issue June 2000. But in 2003, Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, published The Best of Emerge Magazine, a 665-page collection of the magazine that it said “changed the face of African American news.” Curry served as editor, publishing a collection of the magazines most influential and provocative issues and illustrations.

He dared to reveal the truth

He dared to reveal the truth

“George E. Curry was a giant in journalism and he stood on the front lines of the Civil Rights era and used his voice to tell our stories when others would not,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) wrote in a statement to the press.

In 2001, Curry became the editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.

His work for the news service ranged from being inside the Supreme Court to hearing oral arguments in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases to traveling to Doha, Qatar, to report on America’s war with Iraq. He also wrote a weekly syndicated column for the organization’s federation of more than 200 African American newspapers. His columns addressed the many hard-hitting issues within the Africa American community, from knowing and honoring our history and those who have blazed trails to addressing current racial, economic and health disparities.

“He was a pacesetter with the pen. He saw things that other people didn’t see,” Steele said. “And once he saw those things, he embraced them and exposed them in terms of putting information into the hands of people who would normally be left out of the process, meaning the African American community.”

In 2003, he earned a national Journalist of the Year award from NNPA. He also served as editor of the National Urban League’s 2006 State of Black America report, a semi-annual publication about racial equality in America.

He left the news service March 15, 2007, but returned for a second time on April 2, 2012.

In August 2012, he was part of the official US delegation and a presenter at the U.S.-Brazil seminar on educational equity in Brasilia, Brazil.

His time at NNPA ended earlier this year, and he decided to focus his efforts on reviving Emerge as an online magazine. On March 18, he began raising money to fully fund the online publication. During that time, he continued to distribute his weekly column to Black newspapers through Emerge News Online. His last column, Baltimore Cops Routinely Violate Rights of Blacks, was published Aug. 18.

“George’s uncompromising journalistic leadership delivered on Emerge’s promise to deliver edgy, hard-hitting, intellectual, well-written and thoroughly researched content that attracted national attention and left an indelible mark on the lives of manysaid NNPA Chairwoman Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer. “I was honored to carry George’s weekly column in the Washington Informer and to work with him as he served as editor-in-chief of the NNPA newswire. George provided so much of his time, energy, wisdom and incredible journalistic genius to the Black Press. His work will stand as a lasting legacy of journalist excellence and integrity of which all of us in the Black Press and in the journalistic field at large can feel extremely proud.”

Leadership: more than words

Leadership: more than words

His name has been as prominent among civil and human rights circles as among journalists. He traveled many times with Jackson as they tackled issues surrounding civil rights and equality, and appeared weekly to do commentary on Al Sharpton’s radio show, Keepin’ It Real.

“When I started my daily radio show 10 years ago, I asked him to close the final hour every week on Friday,” Sharpton recalled. “About a month ago, he went away for two weeks. He came back last Friday. We teased him [saying] he had rarely missed a Friday. We talked about the elections and everything and the next day he died, which was shocking to me.”

Curry also wrote many columns on HIV/AIDS and the Black community.

Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, wrote a column on the agency’s website about meeting Curry many years ago when after hearing concerns from the LGBT community regarding Curry’s column on the pros and cons of gay marriage. He stated that after their discussion, Curry became his “biggest advocate, cheerleader, coach, mentor [and] big brother.”

“We traveled around the world attending International AIDS meetings for the next 17 years and he transformed the coverage of HIV/AIDS and LGBT issues in the Black media. There was not a single time during the course of our friendship when I called George to ask for help that he didn’t immediately do whatever he could,” Wilson wrote.

Curry was a member of the National Speakers Association and the International Federation for Professional Speakers. His speeches have been televised on C-SPAN and reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day magazine. In his presentations, he addresses such topics as diversity, current events, education and the media.

During his career, he has appeared several times on NewsOne. He has also appeared on 20/20, ABC’s World News Tonight, BET, CBS Evening News, CNN, C-SPAN, ESPN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, PBS and The Today Show.

His work in journalism has taken him to Egypt, England, France, Italy, China, Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, Cuba, Brazil, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Mexico, Canada and Austria.

Curry was chairman of the board of directors of Young DC, a regional teen-produced newspaper; immediate past chairman of the Knoxville College board of trustees; and serves on the board of directors of the Kemba N. Smith Foundation and St. Paul Saturdays, a leadership training program for young African American males in St. Louis. He was also a trustee of the National Press Foundation, chairing a committee that funded more than 15 workshops modeled after the one he directed in St. Louis.

“George E. Curry was a pioneering journalist, a tireless crusader for justice, and a true agent of change,” expressed Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a statement to the press. “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.”

Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this report.

Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this report.

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