Compiling an anthology about Abu-Jamal, and Linn Washington gave me this article, published shortly after Abu-Jamal escaped the guillotine the first time a quarter of a century ago. It reminds me of dose days, when I was a part-time intern at the National Newspaper Publishers Association and constantly surrounded by Black newspapers. I always had a soft spot for The Philadelphia New Observer because it would print these huge, remarkable 20,000-word Black/Afrikan history supplements by James G. Spady, then a Black Philadelphia living institution.
(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.
A. Peter Bailey, veteran of Jet magazine and currently with the Trice Edney News Service, speaks at the Journalists Roundtable. Photo by Sharon Farmer.
Journalists Roundtable, Oct. 6, 2015Updated
Photos (c) by Sharon Farmer
Crown Bakery, Washington, D.C.
Our October roundtable changed topics quickly in response to news the previous day of the resignation of George E. Curry, editor-in-chief of the news service of the trade association for black community newspapers, and one of his staff members.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association had cut their salaries in half and its board chair, Denise Rolark Barnes of the Washington Informer, disclosed that the NNPA board imposed the budget cuts after a decline in revenue and sponsorships prompted by competition from the digital world.
“The drain couldn’t continue,” Barnes said. <http://bit.ly/1FRGfDc>.
Barnes joined us along with roundtable regular Hazel Trice Edney, a former editor-in-chief of the NNPA news service who founded TriceEdneyWire.com.
We also heard from DeShuna Spencer, a social entrepreneur, journalist and the Founder/CEO of kweliTV, an internet video streaming network for the black consumer. She won a $20,000 grant from The New U: News Entrepreneurs. See: <http://unityjournalists.org/news/unity-announces-newu-2014-winners/>.
DeShuna described kweliTV as a “black Netflix,” a phrase she would rather not use since she believes such projects should be described on their own terms. One criterion for adding films to the site is that they have appeared in film festivals.
Denise said it was imperative that black publishers move more quickly into the digital age. “For the last three or four years, we haven’t made any money,” she said of the NNPA websites. The latest difficulties “provide us with an opportunity to get refocused.”
She noted that in June, Apple announced it was looking to hire editors with a journalism background to work on its new app called News it <http://observer.com/2015/06/apple-is-hiring-journalists/>, and yet NNPA members, herself included, have not been contacted. “What perspective are these stories going to have?” Denise asked.
Still, she said, the black press has always been struggling. The first black newspaper was published 50 years before the end of slavery, when most black people were illiterate. Gannett, which publishes the Informer, will no longer be able to do so under its new direction, so that will be another challenge. Yet the black press also steps up to the plate for community activities when needed, again demonstrating its value.
The Informer now sponsors the Prince George’s County spelling bee, since the Washington Post Co. closed the Prince George’s Gazette, the bee’s previous sponsor, in August. The Informer started a monthly section for millennials, WI Bridge, though fewer younger people are turning to newspapers.
However, publishing a newspaper is no longer enough. Advertisers now want digital prowess, Denise said. “Now we’ve got to tap dance and sing,” too, she said.
A surprise was that Denise agreed with mostly everything those in the roundtable said about problems with the black press. Fifteen of us participated, and most had worked in the mainstream media.
Much of the discussion was about how to get companies to recognize their obligation to advertise in the black press, given the number of dollars African Americans spend with those companies. A. Peter Bailey, an author, speaker, journalist and former Malcolm X associate, suggested that publishers make public the number of dollars black consumers spend with certain business sectors. “Let these people see that you’re not doing us a favor,” he said.
Peter added that black publishers should require organizations whose leaders want columns in the black press to make sure their members are reading black newspapers.
Likewise, when Jesse Jackson goes to Detroit this week to discuss diversity within the auto industry and attends Friday’s 16th Annual Rainbow Push Global Automotive Summit, he should raise the issue of advertising in the black press. [Denise said later that Jackson’s automotive report card to be released on Friday will include advertising.]
Richard Prince contended that advertisers and consumers should want the product because it is compelling, not because of a sense of obligation.
Denise agreed, and added that the black press “needs an echo chamber, such as black Twitter.” Peter said the black press should do more on white subjects that affect the black community, such as the Koch brothers. “We’re writing these stories,” Denise said, but they need promotion.
Lynne Adrine said the name “black press” itself is dated. Why not say “black media?” DeShana went so far as to recommend that NNPA change its name to get rid of “Newspaper.” “The whole mindset needs to change,” she said. Richard Prince gave the example of the online-only Q City Metro <http://www.qcitymetro.com/> in Charlotte, N.C., started by Glenn Burkins, who was business editor of the Charlotte Observer. See: <http://mije.org/richardprince/barbering-while-black-clipping-while-hispanic#Burkins>.
“We are somewhat isolated,” Denise said. “My role is to expose our publishers” to these other ideas. “They need to hear what we’ve heard and what’s expected of us.”
Moreover, publishers have to believe in the value of their product.
When Denise asked why black people in the mainstream press who had been laid off aren’t flocking to the black press, roundtable members said that there are cultural as well as professional differences.
Prince said people need to feel that they are working for an organization that is part of the future and forward-looking ways. Consumers don’t want to wait a week for news anymore. The Village Voice and the New Yorker, though weekly print products, now publish daily online. Black publishers must start thinking that way, too.
Denise agreed and said she has been disappointed when she has gone to black press websites for information on breaking news and seen Associated Press copy. That doesn’t advance the purpose of the black press.
In another part of the discussion, Peter Bailey and Hazel Edney insisted that authentic black publications must be published by black people. [Bailey added later that he “refers to White-owned media that attempts to attract Black people or address issues of Black people as ‘Black-oriented media” — not authentic Black media.]
Betty Anne Williams and Richard Prince maintained that the content is what counts to the consumer. A Ta-Nehisi Coates, Prince maintained, is no less authentic because he appears in the white-owned Atlantic.
Hazel said that the social justice tradition of the black press should not be overlooked as a key element in authenticity. She also suggested that NNPA’s board include more people from such corporations as AT&T and Verizon in addition to publishers. Hazel maintained that black newspapers will always exist. “They’ve been here since 1827,” she said.
Referring to the new partnership between NNPA and the National Association of HIspanic Publishers <http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/10/prweb12991418.htm>, Prince suggested looking into a partnership with the Association of Alternative News Media, whose members include alternative weeklies such as the Village Voice and the Washington City Paper, since that organization has acknowledged a diversity problem. <http://bit.ly/1ifOGh2>.
Denise said was open to the idea, as she has joined other newspaper associations, such as the Maryland, Delaware, DC Press Association. Other black publishers have joined similar associations.
The first roundtable took place in May 1999 with Alice Bonner, Betty Anne Williams, Bobbi Bowman, Richard Prince and Bill Alexander. The purpose was to commemorate Alice’s return to Washington after obtaining a Ph.D at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Paul Delaney, Jessica Lee and Walt Swanston were also among the early founders.
When Alice left, she asked that we keep the gatherings going while she was gone, and we have. Some of the faces at the dinner gatherings have changed, but the enthusiasm for the fellowship has only grown.