By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
When driving down Rt. 202 in Largo the echoes of former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry linger. Whether from FedEx Field that he refused to let the citizens of the County pay for, or the building which bears his name and is where the day to day operations for County residents take place, his legacy endures.
Five years since Curry passed away and almost two decades since he last served in office, he still remains the most transformative leader in the history of Prince George’s County. Had it not been for his leadership the County may not have become the utopia for affluent African Americans and still only thought of as a pitstop between Baltimore and D.C.
Curry was a real estate and corporate lawyer, before serving two terms as County Executive. He has been chronicled as the first leader of a major city or county in the nation to go from majority White to majority Black with income and education levels rising instead of falling. Curry also was a believer of Black affluence and is remembered for believing economic power would level the playing field and worked to ensure that black county residents benefited from government contracting.
He fought to gain respect for Prince George’s County, during a time when it was an afterthought around the state. Parcels of land that were once undeveloped are now homes to massive subdivisions with hundreds of strip malls and entertainment establishments surrounding them. Today, the County has a median income of $80,000 and redevelopment is at an all time high.
However, he never lost touch with the cultural dynamics of the County and had the ability to communicate with those in the state capitol or in the community. His former campaign manager Greg Wells once told The Washington Post he was “bilingual” where he could speak “lawyer talk” among Chamber of Commerce members and “street talk” among his constituents, who crossed race and social classes.
“It’s been five years since my friend and mentor, former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, the first African American to serve in that office, passed away,” Congressman Anthony Brown tweeted earlier this week. “Wayne was a giant in the county who constantly championed Prince George’s, and we are stronger for it.”
It could be argued that Curry was the most significant Black politician in the history of southern Maryland. Since Curry was elected in 1994, Blacks have controlled the County Executive office and the incumbent has been re-elected twice, which has corresponded with the area’s gentrification and re-branding of its reputation. Its has also seen its first African American woman elected as County Executive and several lead local municipalities around the region. Curry brought credibility to the County by bargaining from a position of economic strength but he was also on the cutting edge of Civil Rights. His political leadership and successful business acumen open the doors for the next generation of entrepreneurs and public servants.
“Blessed and grateful am I for the invaluable, extraordinary and amazing journey that I experienced because of Wayne’s mentorship,” said County Council member At-Large Calvin Hawkins via twitter.
Under Curry’s leadership Prince George’s County transformed from a predominantly White, blue-collar farming area to the perfect chocolate suburb adjacent to Chocolate City.