Civil Rights Group Names Award After the late Legendary Journalist
George Curry, famously referred to as “The Dean of Black press columnists,” had his name attached to an award recognizing his legacy and contributions in the media during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) 59th Annual Convention, which concluded this week in Memphis.
Jerry Thomas, President of Jerry Thomas Public Relations (JTPR) in Chicago, became the first recipient of the award. Thomas was acknowledged for establishing a public relations firm that provides strategic counsel to some of the nation’s most respected organizations and leaders, for his ability as a public relations professional to shed a positive light on African-Americans in the U.S. and abroad, and for providing a communications platform for people of color to have their voices heard.
Curry, who was a columnist, commentator, editor, news executive and champion of black journalists, died in August 2016 at the age of 69. The Tuscaloosa, AL native is credited with mentoring and paving the way for the next generation black journalists over this career which spanned more than four decades. Early in his career, he worked for Sports Illustrated and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a staff writer, covered the presidential campaign of Rev. Jesse Jackson with the Chicago Tribune, and eventually the campaign of Bill Clinton and Vice-President candidate Al Gore. In 1993, Curry became the New York bureau chief for the Tribune, a position he held until he left to serve as editor-in-chief at Emerge Magazine, where he remained until 2003. After Emerge, Curry became a syndicated columnist and would serve two stints as editor of the National Black Newspaper Association.
“He always had his hand in journalism,” said Dr. Charles Steele, President and CEO of the SCLC, and a longtime friend dating back to high school in Alabama. “If he wasn’t writing columns and cover stories promoting Black issues, he was always networking one way or another. Emerge Magazine was his legacy and he did whatever it would take to make Emerge a success. We traveled the world together. I’ll always remember George.”
It was at the Chicago Tribune where Curry, the paper’s New York bureau chief, and Thomas, a highly respected Urban Affairs reporter at the Tribune, would bond over issues affecting African-Americans at the time. “Curry had a stellar reputation in the industry for not only being a great journalist, but was committed to telling the Black story in America,” said Thomas. “I was very proud to be work at a paper that included a team of very talented journalists like Curry, Nathaniel Sheppard, Jr. and Clarence Page.”
After a 14-year career in journalism, which included the Pioneer Press, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the Star-Ledger in Newark, the Boston Globe and the Tribune, Thomas became the director of Communications for the RainbowPUSH Coalition, headed by Rev. Jesse Jackson. He worked Golin-Harris International, The National Black MBA Association, Inc. and U.S. Cellular, before establishing his firm in 2002, which has worked with clients in the U.S., the Caribbean, Europe and Africa.
In 2007, Thomas called on Curry to join his team as a senior advisor and to mentor his young team. “Curry was pretty much one of my top supporters and champions,” said Thomas. “He traveled internationally with me, helped shape my company’s vision, and worked with corporations, colleges and universities, and civil rights groups — but he also took the time to nurture and train young communicators at JTPR.”
When Curry passed in August of 2016, he left behind a legacy of high-quality black journalism that was able to transcend racial, social, and political boundaries. Dr. Steele decided to honor Curry’s name this year at their 59th Annual Convention by attaching it to an award that recognizes excellence in the world of communications.
“George was a media professional who had commitment, conviction, and he was extremely dedicated,” Dr. Steele said. “He was a legend in his own right. We know how close George and Jerry were. The three of us always worked together. So, it’s only fitting, and the right thing to do that Jerry receives it.”
Dr. Steele added that “as long as I’m around,” the George Curry Award will be an annual award given out at future conventions.
Curry’s longtime life partner, Ann Ragland, was on site to join Dr. Steele in presenting the award to Thomas.
“This award is wonderful, and it’s such a blessing to keep his legacy alive by allowing people to receive an award for the work they are doing in journalism and communications, especially when it concerns civil rights and uplifting the poor and underprivileged,” Ragland said. “George taught so much. He would tell it like he saw it, and he always advocated for black people and the black press.”
The SCLC’s 59th Annual Convention was held July 20-22 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. It focused primarily on issues affecting the nation’s poorest and disenfranchised residents, and SCLC Leaders announced plans to relaunch globally the Poor People’s Campaign – an initiative envisioned in 1968 by Dr. King to unite poor people of diverse backgrounds against poverty in America and across the globe. Dr. King never got to participate in the original campaign because he was assassinated two weeks later in Memphis. It would be carried out by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, his predecessor, and his widow, Coretta Scott King.