George Curry was an iconic journalist who dedicated his life to enriching Black America through his impactful storytelling. A former editor of both Emerge newsmagazine and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, Curry was very clear about his mission in life. He was also unapologetic about executing it.
“The reason I do what I do is because I grew up in Alabama and the first Black journalist I ever knew was me,” Curry said during a speech he gave to college students, snippets of which were played on Austin’s NPR station KUT 90.5. “I could get a job at Sports Illustrated and couldn’t get a job in my hometown newspaper. (I became a journalist so) so you will never be able to say you never met a Black journalist.”
In that same speech, Curry challenged the college students that made up his audience to make an important decision.
“Anybody who knows me knows if it comes up, it comes out,” Curry said. “I actually have a challenge … and I hope you make a decision tonight. … My topic is in the form of a question. Do you want to be a thermometer or do you want to be a thermostat? … Do you want to measure the temperature or do you want to set the temperature?”
Curry’s words were true to his character. Born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Curry attended Knoxville University and did summer studies at both Yale and Harvard. After graduation, Curry went on to work for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune.
His deep love for his people and commitment to justice and equality drove him to use his gift of writing to highlight issues of importance to the Black community. It’s why he was the perfect choice to become Emerge magazine’s second and final editor-in-chief after its founder, Wilmer Ames, died.
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Published from 1989 to 2000, Emerge focused intently on issues that were important to the Black community. It was headquartered in Washington, D.C. and Curry was at its helm from 1992 through 2000, when the publication ceased printing.
Under Curry’s leadership, Emerge won more than 40 national journalism awards. One of its most impactful stories was “Kemba’s Nightmare.” The 17-page cover story written by Curry detailed how Kemba Smith – a young Black college student from a middle-class family – was sentenced to 24-and-a-half years in prison for a minor drug offense. The story eventually led President Bill Clinton to pardon Smith.
After Emerge magazine closed, Curry founded George Curry Media and served as its president and CEO. In his columns, he was unafraid to go against the grain of mainstream thought when he held a strong opinion about something. It’s likely why his syndicated column was published in more than 200 Black newspapers around the nation. In words and action, Curry was a passionate advocate of the Black Press.
One such story he penned, “Why Black People Answer When Farrakhan Calls,” exemplified this. In spite of describing Nation Of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as “the most reviled Black man in America,” he noted it was time to give the minister his credit.
“African Americans trust Minister Farrakhan. Even if strongly disagreeing with some of his views and the well-known antipathy between the Nation of Islam (NOI) leader and Jews, Blacks know that he won’t ever sell them out for personal gain or any other reason,” Curry wrote.
Months before his death from heart failure in 2016, Curry announced plans to revive Emerge magazine in a digital format. A GoFundMe Campaign for the relaunch raised $18,035. Many were devastated by Curry’s death, which eclipsed his intent to revive what was considered the go-to publication for Black American news.
Curry’s reputation as a gifted journalist preceded him, but he was also remembered for his commitment to mentoring and pouring into the next generation. In a 2016 tribute article after Curry’s death, journalist Lottie Joyner recalled how Curry had “saved her life” by hiring and mentoring her.
“I am where I am today because of George Curry. He changed my life,” Joyner wrote. Curry’s job offer for her to work at Emerge not only equipped her with the tools she needed to succeed, but also changed the trajectory of her career, she said.
“George was tough for sure. His management style wasn’t for the faint of heart. You couldn’t be thin-skinned or the overly-sensitive type. I had to grow up fast. But I realized years later that he saw potential in the young staff that worked at Emerge. Fact checking was an important part of our jobs. He wanted us to get it right. He wanted us to be our best,” Joyner recalled. “Indeed. I had the opportunity to sit at his feet and learn from his wisdom.”
Nubai Ventures and The Moguldom Nation founder Jamarlin Martin also expressed how much Curry impacted him as a young man growing up in Los Angeles.
“George Curry was a GIANT, a beautiful mind. He had a POV & aesthetic that was high impact in the 90’s. I was a subscriber in HS,” Martin tweeted.