George Curry during press conference unveiling AIDS in Black Face: 25 Years of an Epidemic on June 5, 2006, at the Open Society Institute in New York City
Tim Grant/WireImage for BET Productions

George E. Curry, a veteran journalist who championed the black press and was reviving online his beloved Emerge magazine, died Saturday at 69, according to a message from his sister's Facebook account.

"It is with deep regret to inform everyone that my brother, George passed away earlier today," said the message, from the account of "Christie Love," pen name for Sylvia "Chris" Polk.

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"It was a shock to our family and we are dealing with the news, as best we can. R.I.P. brother George Curry." Curry lived in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Hazel Trice Edney, publisher of the Trice Edney News Wire, reported Sunday that Curry "died suddenly of heart failure.

"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.

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" '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. . . ." Edney noted the popularity of his weekly columns in the black press.

Curry was twice editor-in-chief of the news service created by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, trade organization for the black press, but left in October after NNPA cut Curry's salary in half in response to financial problems.

He then turned his attention to creating an online version of Emerge magazine, for which he was editor-in-chief from 1993 until its final issue in June 2000. A GoFundMe drive had raised $16,088 of its $100,000 goal. The site posted eight articles on Friday.

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Emerge was best known for its cover stories on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, one showing the justice sporting an Aunt Jemima knot and the second depicting him as a lawn jockey for the far right. Curry wrote that the covers "were effective because in the minds of many Blacks disgusted with Thomas' voting record, that's exactly what he is. And we had the temerity to say it." Emerge aimed to be the political-magazine counterpart to Ebony, Jet, Essence and Black Enterprise.

"Emerge covered the most important people, topics, and turning points of this remarkable period in penetrating articles by an all-star cast of writers, including Nelson George, Les Payne, Thulani Davis, Ralph Wiley, Jill Nelson, Tananarive Due, and Trey Ellis," read a promotion on the cover of "The Best of Emerge Magazine," a 2003 collection that Curry edited.

Another standout was "Kemba's Nightmare," a 1997 account by Reginald Stuart.

It "was about an extremely sheltered, straight-A high school student from Richmond who went to college and fell in love with a drug dealer," Courtland Milloy wrote that year in the Washington Post. "Arrested and convicted of conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, Kemba [Smith] — a first-time offender who prosecutors admit never actually touched the stuff — went to prison in 1995 under federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws for 24 1/2 years without parole. She was 24 years old. . . ."

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Credit: DeWayne Wickham

Although he had left NNPA, Curry continued to champion the black press.

Last month, he challenged a New York Times story on black media, saying ownership, not customer base, is the relevant issue.

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The larger failure was not addressing the importance of Black-owned and operated media. . . . The issue is not race or ethnicity per se — it’s an issue of trust. African Americans trust the Black Press and distrust the White-owned corporate media. . . .”

In 2003, Curry was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists for his work with the black press, and in accepting, delighted NABJ's Dallas convention audience with impressions of Jesse Jackson and James Brown. He had long covered Jackson, especially during Jackson's presidential campaigns of the 1980s.

Curry also co-founded the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists and founded the St. Louis Minority Journalism Workshop, a training program for aspiring high school journalists that was replicated in other cities; was the first African American president of the American Society of Magazine Editors; and, through his George Curry Media, syndicated his columns. He was also active on the speakers' circuit.

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TheHistoryMakers has posted this biography:

"George Edward Curry was born on February 23, 1947, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; his mother worked as a domestic and his father was a mechanic. Curry's father abandoned the family when Curry was just seven years old, leaving him to step into the role of the man of the house, assisting his mother in raising his three younger sisters. In 1965, Curry earned his high school diploma from Druid High School, where he was a member of the football team and sports editor of the school newspaper.

"In 1966, Curry moved to New York where he worked for The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for a year. Curry earned his bachelor of arts degree in history from Knoxville College in 1970. Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Curry began his professional journalism career as a reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine in 1970; he was the second African American hired by the publication.

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"After leaving Sports Illustrated in 1972, Curry headed west and worked as a beat reporter for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch until 1983. In 1977, he founded the St. Louis Minority Journalism Workshop, a training program for aspiring high school journalists; that same year, he wrote his first book Jake Gaither: America’s Most Famous Black Coach.

"From 1983 until 1989, Curry worked for the Chicago Tribune as a Washington Correspondent, covering political stories such as Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign. From 1989 until 1993, Curry worked as the New York bureau chief of the Tribune. From there, Curry served as editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine until it folded and printed its final edition in 2003; under his leadership the magazine won more than forty national journalism awards.

"In 2003, Curry became editor-in-chief for the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, or NNPA, and BlackPressUSA.com; his weekly syndicated column appeared in more than two hundred African American newspapers. While at NNPA, Curry’s work has included covering the Supreme Court’s decision on the University of Michigan’s affirmative action case and America’s war with Iraq.

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"In 2003, Curry was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists; he is also on NABJ’s list of Most Influential Black Journalists of the 20th Century."

Last year, Curry wrote about the heart attack he sustained after covering and participating in the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala.

"At the urging of 'Uncle Mike' Fauvelle of Setauket, N.Y., I am writing about my second close call with death, hoping that it, too, will prompt you to not only pay closer attention to your health, but be aware of the small signs of trouble and do something about it immediately if you sense something is awry," he wrote.