TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (TriceEdneyWire.com) – One minute the congregation was somber and in tears; the next minute they were rocking to choir music in the pews; the next minute they were laughing in fond memory; and then they were shouting and applauding on their feet.

That was the range of emotions that marked the packed house during the “Celebration of Life” for legendary journalist George Curry at Weeping Mary Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Aug. 27.

George Curry Funeral

The Rev. Al Sharpton gave a eulogy of the Black press journalist, columnist, commentator and editor that soared from a touching and sometimes humorous tribute to a fiery sermon that shook the sanctuary. Stately Black journalists and publishers were among those moved by the Spirit as Sharpton’s message pointed largely to how they must now escalate their voices as they continue telling the story.

“There were many Black writers that have gone mainstream. But George Curry made mainstream go Black,” said Sharpton to applause. “He was smart enough to play the game and stay in certain newsrooms. But he chose not to do that because he chose the path of why Black Press started in the first place.”

Sharpton was eluding to the first Black Press editorial, published in the 1827 inaugural edition of Freedom’s Journal. That editorial stated, “We wish to plead our own cause. For too long have others spoken for us.”

Curry, who died of heart failure Aug. 20, started his career at Sports Illustrated, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune. But he died as a hero, having found his calling in the Black Press. He was editor-in-chief of his beloved Emerge Magazine for seven years until it went defunct. Then he took up the banner becoming editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA), the Black Press of America. When he died, he had founded Emergenewsonline.com, a digital version of the hard copy magazine, which he never gave up hope to revive.

Curry’s death hit the journalistic community particularly hard as it came amidst one of the most controversial and heated presidential elections in history. Sharpton made clear where the Black Press must go from here.

“George Curry left us in a critical time in history,” Sharpton said. “In five months will be the first time in American history that we will see a White succeed a Black president. We’ve never been here before…which means those of us who write the story are going to have to follow a script that’s never been written before. If we ever needed a strong independent, but ethical Black Press, we’re going to need it now,” he said.

Dozens of Black publishers, writers, photographers, former interns and mentees, mostly from NNPA, took up the first two pews of the church. The sanctuary was also packed with hundreds of people, including his family and Tuscaloosa residents who came to say farewell to their hometown hero.

Sharpton said among the encouraging principles that Curry taught him was, “It’s not what everybody else thinks of you. It’s about what you think of yourself. And if you grab a hold to what your calling is and believe what you think you can be, everybody else’s judgement won’t matter.”

Sharpton said it was Curry’s courage that marked his unique style of reporting and column writing.

“Progress has never been as a result of people who didn’t take risks. George knew he wasn’t going to benefit by telling Kemba’s story. He knew he’d lose advertisers. He knew he wouldn’t be on ‘Face the Nation’ if he put a handkerchief on Clarence Thomas’ head.”

The audience applauded vigorously at the recognition of both – the Kemba Smith and Clarence Thomas stories, which appeared on the cover of Emerge.

“But he told the truth. He chose his integrity. He chose the roots he got in Tuscaloosa rather than getting a pat on the back from folk that’s going to fire you anyway…George was a man’s man. And a proud man. That’s why George mattered.”

Smith, who called Curry her “hero”, was among the speakers, which also included journalists Ed Gordon and Roland Martin. NNPA President/CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis and SCLC President/CEO Dr. Charles Steele also spoke. A childhood friend and Tuscaloosa native, Steele also presided at the funeral and the memorial service the night before, where the keynote speaker was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Ultimately, it was the Biblical text of the eulogy that brought the congregation to their feet at the end of the three-hour service.

Sharpton preached from II Timothy 4:6-7, 11-13 when Paul, knowing his death was near, said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith!”

But, then Paul told Timothy to bring certain things to the jail, including “parchments”, which interpreted, means his writings.

“Bring my books and bring my papers because I did what the rest of the Apostles didn’t do. I wrote the story. And the story would be distorted unless we that lived the story, wrote the story!” Sharpton preached.

He admonished Black journalists and publishers, “Keep telling the story…George never stopped. Until the very end, he never backed up and he never compromised. And he never negotiated his dignity for a contract or for a favor. That’s why when we say ‘so-long’, we’ve lost something that we’ll never see that way again. George Curry was part of a long tradition. But he was one of a kind.’”


Hazel Trice Edney