Mini-Book Review: Breaking Bread

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Operation Breadbasket: An Untold Story of Civil Rights in Chicago, 1966-1971.
Martin L. Deppe.
Athens: The University of Georgia Press.
320 pp., $26.95.

The best small history/political science books fill in huge socio-historical gaps that few see. Deppe’s treatment of Operation Breadbasket is a great compact study, because he combines diary elements, a significant amount of primary and secondary sourced history, and just plain observation transformed into clear analysis. Operation Breadbasket started in 1966 as the economic arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Using protests, boycotts and negotiation, its initial goal was to get Black and Brown people jobs in corporations that were operating in those communities. The inter-racial group grew as fast as its leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, introduced here a young man not yet 30 and not yet ordained. Deppe, a white Methodist minister and a Breadbasket founding member, lived the territory and, thankfully, kept his records organized. He calls Jackson the team’s “quarterback.” If so, that makes the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—who, as SCLC president, is Breadbasket’s de-facto initiator and a compelling supporting character here—the team’s general manager of sorts. Happily, Deppe does not hide from criticizing his friend Jackson. The usual charges against the then-Afro-ed, dashiki-ed country preacher—of rank opportunism, self-centered, camera-hungry leadership without necessary, detailed follow-up, and appropriation (both Breadbasket’s children’s breakfast program and the “rainbow coalition” idea are liberally borrowed from the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, led by the martyred Fred Hampton)—are, 50 years later, a permanent part of the Black American (and Jackson’s) narrative. (Speaking of personal Movement history, his book should be followed up by a much-needed biography of Breadbasket/PUSH stalwart Rev. Willie Barrow, one of the most visible Black female leaders of the Chicago Movement.) But sticking with right now, Deppe should be congratulated for balancing the Civil Rights and Black Power movements so thoughtfully, and with so many statistics and records of Breadbasket’s many accomplishments backing up the anecdotes and notes. Breadbasket’s short but impactful life—an optimistic, empowering period of “Black Christmas” celebrations and the publication of a citywide Black directory nicknamed “the mellow pages”—is well told. By the time Breadbasket breaks from SCLC and becomes Operation PUSH (now the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition), the reader has traveled well through the thorny fields of the Chicago Black Power Movement, the political machine of the city’s mayor, Mayor Richard Daley, King’s assassination and its aftermath, and Black economic development and/versus Black capitalism. No more can be asked of such a strong, fine account.

Mini-Book Review: For Coretta Scott King, A Time To Break Silence

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My Life, My Love, My Legacy.
Coretta Scott King, as told to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds.
Henry Holt and Company.
368 pp., $30.

The first First Lady of Black America has a lot to say, particularly since her first memoir, from 1969, was revised, not updated, about 25 years ago. Veteran Black journalist Barbara Reynolds, no stranger to chronicling the Civil Rights Movement, lets Coretta, who died in 2006, be Coretta, and the widow decided that meant turning her life into a Christian fable, a generation-filled testimony of faith and courage. The first half of the book re-hashes her time with MLK, but it’s the second half that awakens the reader from a black-and-white documentary slumber. That second act is where King details her struggles to create the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, and makes sure to, in a gentle Christian fashion, settle old scores against her husband’s former comrades-in-arms.  So Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams and, later, the Black American apartheid activist Randall Robinson, are briefly portrayed as Black men who attempted to deny King the Black leadership mantle she said she inherited from God and Martin. King wanted this book to make clear to history that she was an important part of a dangerous movement for Black liberation (“We forged a rough and blood-drenched road, but Martin never looked for easy victories”). She convinces the reader that she was a well-respected national and international human rights leader in her own right–a Blackish heir to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was dubbed “The First Lady of the World,” and, to a lesser extent, singer-activist Paul Robeson. (Her story is sometimes candid, but other times exactly that, a story: for example, ignoring reams of documented history to the contrary, she claims her husband never cheated on her.) As Black America moves to permanently claim a younger, hipper, actual First Lady, it might be important to remember when thinking about both women that maintaining a public display of dignity–something they both mastered–was not enough; that it was direct, dangerous action against the forces of war, capitalism and white supremacy, accepting a life of risk that Coretta knew all too well, that made real, lasting history.

Veteran Black Press Journalist George Edward Curry, 69, Joins The Ancestors

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(George Edward Curry, center, at a Morgan State University forum on the Black press. Photo courtesy of Ericka Blount Danois, far left.)

Black Press Columnist George Curry Dead at 69
By Hazel Trice Edney

(TriceEdneyWire) – Pioneering Civil rights and Black political journalist George E. Curry, the reputed dean of Black press columnists because of his riveting weekly commentary in Black newspapers across the country, died suddenly of heart failure on Saturday, Aug. 20. He was 69.

Rumors of his death circulated heavily in journalistic circles on Saturday night until it was confirmed by Dr. Bernard Lafayette, MLK confidant and chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, shortly before midnight.

“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, Ala. where Curry bloomed as a civil rights and sports writer as Steele grew into a politician and civil rights leader.

Curry began his journalism career at Sports Illustrated, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, and then The Chicago Tribune. But he is perhaps best known for his editorship of the former Emerge magazine and more recently for his work as editor-in-chief for the National Newspaper Publishers Association from 2000-2007 and again from 2012 until last year.

His name is as prominent among civil rights circles as among journalists. He traveled with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and appeared weekly to do commentary on the radio show of the Rev. Al Sharpton, “Keepin’ It Real.”

When he died he was raising money to fully fund Emerge News Online, a digital version of the former paper magazine. He had also continued to distribute his weekly column to Black newspapers.

Few details of his death were readily available Sunday morning. Reactions and memorial information will be forthcoming. The following is his edited speaker’s biography as posted on the website of America’s Program Bureau:

George E. Curry was former editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. The former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, Curry also wrote a weekly syndicated column for NNPA, a federation of more than 200 African American newspapers.

Curry, who served as editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service from 2001 until 2007, returned to lead the news service for a second time on April 2, 2012.

His work at the NNPA has ranged from being inside the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases to traveling to Doha, Qatar, to report on America’s war with Iraq.

As editor-in-chief of Emerge, Curry led the magazine to win more than 40 national journalism awards. 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 1/2 years in prison for her minor role in a drug ring. In May 1996, Emerge published a cover story titled “Kemba’s Nightmare.” President Clinton pardoned Smith in December 2000, marking the end of her nightmare.

Curry was the author of Jake Gaither: America’s Most Famous Black Coach and editor of The Affirmative Action Debate and The Best of Emerge Magazine. He was editor of the National Urban League’s 2006 State of Black America report. 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. In August 2012, he was part of the official US delegation and a presenter at the USBrazil seminar on educational equity in Brasilia, Brazil. George Curry is 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. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Curry graduated from Druid High School before enrolling at Knoxville College in Tennessee. At Knoxville, he was editor of the school paper, quarterback and co-captain of the football team, a student member of the school’s board of trustees, and attended Harvard and Yale on summer history scholarships.

While working as a Washington correspondent for The Chicago Tribune, 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. He was featured in a segment of One Plus One, a national PBS documentary on mentoring. Curry was part of the weeklong ABC News’ Nightline special, America in Black and White. He has also appeared on the CBS Evening News, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC’s The Today Show, ABC’s 20/20 and Good Morning America, CNN, C-SPAN, BET, Fox News, MSNBC, and ESPN. 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.

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.

Before taking over as editor of Emerge, Curry served as New York bureau chief and as Washington correspondent for The Chicago Tribune. Prior to joining The Tribune, he worked for 11 years as a reporter for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and for two years as a reporter for Sports Illustrated.

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 served 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. Curry 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.