Tribute By Connie's Family
Let Her Shine! Let Her Shine! Let Her Shine! Timothy Jenkins
As remembered by Ann Curry
June 20, 2020
Connie died peacefully this evening. My husband and I made it to Atlanta. I read every email you all sent to her and then some! I held her hand and told her she was so loved.
Thank you for all your prayers and support.
Connie was instrumental in the founding of the SNCC Digital Gateway (SNCCDigital.org), the popular documentary website produced through a collaboration between SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) and Duke University, and funded by the Mellon Foundation. Always one to use her academic contacts in service of the Movement, it was Connie who brought SNCC Legacy together with Duke. As SLP Chair Courtland Cox noted, "There would be no SNCC Digital website were it not for Connie Curry." The vast multimedia website documents the history, events and organizing philosophy of SNCC through archival audio and visual materials, primary documents, personal profiles and — since SNCC was the only youth-led Civil Rights organization — conversations with today's young organizers.
— Ann Curry to Atlanta Journal.
As remembered by the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP)
Connie Curry died June 20, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. She was 87 years old. Connie attended the 1960 founding conference of SNCC at Shaw University as a delegate of the National Student Association's Southern Student Human Relations Project. She was named an 'adult adviser' to SNCC and was an active supporter of SNCC ever since. She was an emeritus member of the SNCC Legacy Project Board.
From 1964 to 1975, she worked as a field representative for the American Friends Services Committee. She served as the City of Atlanta's Director of Human Services from 1975-1990.
Curry is the author of several works, including her award winning book, Silver Rights (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1995; Paper back Harcourt Brace, 1996), which won the Lillian Smith Book Award for nonfiction in 1996; was a finalist for the 1996 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; was recommended by the New York Times for summer reading in 1996; and was named the Outstanding Book on the subject of Human Rights in North America by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights.
She collaborated with Bob Zellner on his memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement (2008)
She is the author of Mississippi Harmony with Ms. Winson Hudson, published fall 2002 by Palgrave/St, Martin's press. Mississippi Harmony tells the life story of Mrs. Hudson, a civil rights leader from Leake County, Miss.,who also challenged segregation in the 1960s. Curry also collaborated in and edited Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (University of Georgia Press, 2000) and the book Aaron Henry: the Fire Ever Burning (University Press of Mississippi, 2000).
Read more about Connie Curry at: Conny Curry. And watch Connie Curry speak about the legacy of Ms. Ella Baker. Starts at 40:50.
As remembered by Judy Richardson
June 20, 2020
She was a very strong, consistently committed "and very funny" lady.
As remembered by Betty Garman
June 20, 2020
I am sitting with sadness that Connie, an amazing warrior and friend, is gone to the ancestors. She will be missed and remembered! Sending love and condolences to all in her family including her SNCC family and SLP.
As remembered by Larry Rubin
June 20, 2020
She will be in Heaven embarassing the angels who will be hard put to keep from laughing at her raunchy jokes. I truly loved her.
As remembered by Penny Patch
June 20, 2020
I am so glad you got to be with her. For me, Connie was an inspiration, role model and friend. May her spirit carry us all forward in these wild and challenging times. She is somewhere, hopefully not too far away, laughing and offering us hope. All love and prayers to you and your family.
As remembered by Dorothy Dawson Burlage
June 21, 2020
I worked with Connie for a couple of years when she was director of the Southern Student Human Relations Project in Atlanta. She had connections all over the South and organized seminars and conferences to teach southern students about segregation and racism. Connie loved to tell stories and that skill contributed to her being a good writer. She liked to tell jokes and she and Julian Bond attended a comedy school together. Connie told me she had a photographic memory and never took notes when she was in law school. She also said that she handled only one legal case after becoming a lawyer and that was to defend a cat. She always owned cats and her tender heart was revealed when one of them killed a bird and her reaction was to break down crying.
We were blessed to have her and the country is better because of her contribution.
As remembered by Joyce Ladner
June 21, 2020
Despite Connie's health challenges over the past few years, I will always remember her as a vibrant warrior who made me laugh with little effort on her part. She had the ability to hear clearly the voices of others without putting them through a filter. Her book, Silver Rights is a testament to her contributions to the struggle.
As remembered by Charlie Cobb
June 21, 2020
So sorry to hear this Ann. Connie was loved by much of SNCC and by me especially. He departure from us is greatly missed.
As remembered by Maria Varela
June 21, 2020
Last time I saw Connie was when Joyce, Connie and I were on a panel involving high school and college women at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Even though she was just coming off of a bout of illness, she was her engaging and humorous self, endearing her to the students in attendance. Rest in love and laughter, our sister.
I just spent an hour on the phone with Casey [Hayden] who is deep in her grief about Connie. She told a story about how Connie was the first to tell her about the sit-ins when Casey was at [Univ, of] Texas. And how demonstrators were being burned with cigarettes. And how they both cried about that. I asked her to write something, and hopefully she will do so. She sends warm regards and hugs to all.
As remembered by Jennifer Lawson
June 21, 2020
I am so sorry to hear this news. Connie truly made a difference through her life and her actions.
Yesterday, when we learned she was so very sick, I went back through some of the emails she sent over recent years and found her strong voice pleading for us to help Jamil in his imprisonment, buy Brenda Travis' book, and try to do something about homelessness. She also sent messages of sorrow on the passing of Unita Blackwell, John O'Neal and some of the many others who we have lost. My favorite email from her was one expressing her amusement at seeing a photo of Bob Moses and Charlie Cobb talking and laughing during a meeting down in Durham.
It was so very good to have her in this battle, side by side. She will be missed.
As remembered by Jim Marshall
June 22, 2020
It's with a heavy heart that I write about Connie Curry who was so important to me and many other movement people in any way she could help.
Her warmth and help in supporting me in my research for my two books about the Mississippi civil rights movement was crucial in my getting access to the M. L. King Library archives in Atlanta where I was able to go through and scan a large number of SNCC papers when other academics had great difficulty in gaining access to those documents if at all.
Moreover Connie helped many many others, among them Bob Zellner and Brenda Travis, in writing their memoirs and I am sure that the list of people she helped is a long one.
Connie also published many books herself, among them Silver Rights: A True Story from the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Struggle.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and the Kennedy Administration, 1960-1964: A History in Documents (2018)
Student Activism and Civil Rights in Mississippi: Protest Politics and the Struggle for Racial Justice, 1960-1965 (2013)
As remembered by Bob Zellner
June 22, 2020
Memories of our SNCC Sister Connie Curry
Yesterday I was shocked and saddened when I got an email from an old friend in Baltimore that my long-time friend and mentor Connie Curry had died. We worked together in SNCC and the movement for almost sixty years. She began teaching me during the summer after I graduated from Huntingdon College. Connie invited me to participate in a Southern Student Human Relations workshop at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for three exciting weeks in August 1961 under the auspices of the USNSA (the National Student Association).B She made it possible for me to meet Tim Jenkins, Tom Hayden and other luminaries of the movement. I won't forget seeing Tim Jenkins duking it out (verbally) with the editor of the National Review, Willian Buckley. Fresh out of the deep South, I had never seen a black man talk to a white man that way. Tim called Buckley "crypto-Nazi, racist peckerwood, exhibiting a slave-owning mentality."
As our "adult advisor" to SNCC, it did not occur to us youngsters that Connie was only 3 or 4 years older than us. But she was wise beyond her years: one of the BIG THREE MENTORS — Connie CURRY, Howard ZINN and Staughton LYND. (Ms. Ella Baker was, of course, in a category all by herself.
Connie helped carry out Jim Forman's advice to write it down, make our own historical record. A few of the authors and scholars she helped with books are James Marshall, Brenda Travis, Bob Zellner and Aaron Henry.
She was the author of Silver Rights and other books on the movement.
Rest in power dear sister and say hello to Harriet Tubman for us.
As remembered by Dorothy ("Dottie") Miller
June 26, 2020
Constance Curry passed away peacefully on June 20, 2020 after being in poor health for the past few years. Known universally as "Connie," she spent her entire adult life working for social justice, and played a special part in the formation of SNCC.
Born in 1933 to a family of Irish immigrants, Connie grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. She was one of the two "adult" advisors of SNCC (the other was Ella J. Baker) and the first white member of SNCC's executive committee. She was present at SNCC's founding conference in April 1960. At the time she was 26 years old, but as she wrote in (in Deep in Our Hearts), she qualified for the "adult" role because she "was out of college, had a job, and could use [foundation] money to help the fledgling movement." In her entry in the SNCC women's anthology, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, she described herself as an "observer" in the early days of the sit-in movement, but she was far more than that.
[Note that in the context of a disciplined, nonviolent protest like a sit-in, "observer" was a specific designated role assigned to a trusted activist. So in the comment above, she wasn't describing herself as an observer of the Freedom Movement but rather as a dedicated participant who at times was appointed to a responsible direct-action role.]
She was an expeditor, a facilitator, a person who generously gave of herself, her belongings and her contacts. She was a chronicler and storyteller, who cherished the many lifelong friends she made in the civil rights movement. In our current language, she was a staunch lifelong "ally" to the Black freedom movement and unstintingly used her position and her whole self to further equal rights.
Connie was also known for a rollicking and uninhibited sense of humor. She particularly favored "earthy" jokes and took a comedy course with her long-time SNCC friend Julian Bond, where they learned the latest comedic techniques. The two often reduced SNCC gatherings to helpless fits of laughter.
In addition to her unfailingly supportive work with SNCC, throughout her life Connie worked for the National Student Association, the Collegiate Council for the United Nations, the American Friends Service Committee, and the City of Atlanta (as the director of the Bureau of Human Services). Along the way she got a law degree and then became a full-time writer. She was the author or editor of several books, most notably the award-winning Silver Rights, which told the story of the Carter family who bravely broke the segregation barrier in Drew, Mississippi, and edited two autobiographies: Bob Zellner's The Wrong Side of Murder Creek and Aaron Henry's The Fire Ever Burning.
In her later years, Connie advocated to end the school-to-prison pipeline and for Jamil al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown), visiting him often in prison and reporting his condition to the SNCC family and others. She was instrumental in organizing the SNCC 50th anniversary at Shaw University in 2010, convincing Courtland Cox (now SNCC Legacy Project's chair) to honcho the conference, along with SNCC's Karen Spelman. Cox said, "Without Connie's persistence we may not have had the gathering." In addition, he said, her university contacts were invaluable in establishing the relationship with Duke University that led to the formation of the SNCC Digital Gateway (SNCCDigital.org).
As SNCC's Larry Rubin says, "She will be in Heaven embarrassing the angels who will be hard put to keep from laughing at her raunchy jokes." Her many friends and colleagues — as well as her band of brothers and sisters in SNCC — will miss her and remember her always.
As remembered by William Chafe
June 26, 2020
This is a wonderful tribute to a fantastic person. We worked together with Connie to raise funds at Duke and UNC that allowed us to videograph the entire 50th anniversary conference. Without her, this would not have happened.
She will be sorely missed.
Best, Bill Chafe from Duke
As remembered by Wendell Paris
June 27, 2020
The organizations that came together to form the Panola Land Buyers Association were: The Federation of Southern Cooperatives; The Southern Cooperative Development Fund; The Voter Education Project; The Alabama Council of Human Relations; The Southern Regional Council and the American Friends Service Committee. You SNCC folk will know John Lewis represented VEP and CONNIE CURRY represented AFSC.
The Panola Land Buyers today owns over 1300 acres and provides the home base for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Rural Research and Training Center, which is the premier organization in the nation that addresses land ownership and land retention.
If YOU CANNOT FEED YOURSELF, THEN YOU CANNOT FREE YOURSELF
LONG LIVE CONNIE!!
As remembered by Timothy Jenkins
June 27, 2020
Dear Family Members All,
I naively inherited my relationship with Connie Curry when I became an elected officer of the United States National Student Association in the early sixties, finding her already ensconced in Atlanta as USNSA's Southern Project Director. As an undergrad, she had been previously engaged courageously with Southern educational leaders facilitating the implementation of the Brown Desegregation decision throughout the South. She was a no-nonsense feminist throughout without so declaring it. She immediately became a welcomed thorn under my saddle from then on through the heady life of SNCC, until just months ago relentlessly pressing me by phone and email to do more and more to save the life of "H. Rap" Jamal and the life of the country.
My recollected thoughts of her include her infectious giggles, ever bawdy humor and warrior vigor that interwove herself in the every aspect of the South's freedom struggle as a singular "Soul Sister of Revolution" for all these sixty-some years.
The echoes of her can be heard among today's militant new white crusaders marching with Black Lives Matter to purge the racial venom of racism from the blood of American body-politics from the state houses to the White House.
With a smiling face she ever delivered encouragement to read each day as a stepping stone rather than a destination. As long as memories last of our need for solidarity among all honest people to be revolutionaries forever, her contribution and sacrifice will be part of our legacy of what it truly takes to be willing to risk one's self for the cause of liberation.
With misty eyes and a heart at half mast, Timothy L. Jenkins
My Co-Signers confidently include Chuck McDew, Charlie Jones, and Charles Sherrod
WITHOUT first getting their written permission of this expression of condolence
Eulogy by Dorothy Dawson Burlage
July 19, 2020
My name is Dorothy Dawson Burlage and I have known Connie for about 60 years.
I worked with Connie from 1961 to 1963 at the Southern Student Human Relations Project. Connie and I worked in Atlanta on one floor of 41 Exchange Place and Miss Ella Baker worked on another. Connie called her Ella, having become friends during those early days when there were few people in the Freedom Movement. While men now bend the knee, Connie and Ella were known to bend the elbow, Connie with scotch and Ella with Jack Daniels or Jim Beam, though both with a gin and tonic topped off with a slice of lime in the hot summer. The three of us, clouded by smoke from Connie's cigarettes, ate and talked politics at B.B. Beamon's. Connie could often be seen zipping around town in a red and white convertible Karman Ghia.
A few years later, Connie went to law school and also wrote several books. When I asked her how she could accomplish so much so easily, she explained that she had a photographic memory. Rather than taking notes during class, she absorbed the lessons while looking out the window. She also said that she took only a few cases after getting her license and was particularly proud to have been the lawyer in a case involving the wrongful death of a cat. Connie always owned cats, perhaps 30 or 40 over a lifetime. She had a very tender heart and enormous capacity for compassion. One time when I was visiting, having to climb over the many piles of movement papers on the living room floor to get to the backyard, her cat caught and killed a bird. Seeing the dead bird, Connie fell apart crying.
Her commitment to the civil rights movement derived from this deep sense of empathy.
Connie's empathy was matched by her ribald sense of humor, guffaws of laughter, and spontaneity. When she was asked to present Harry Belafonte at a SNCC Reunion at Shaw University, and revealing what some would now consider politically incorrect, Connie introduced Belafonte not only as an actor, singer, and supporter of social justice, but as the sexiest man in the movement. After that hilarious bombshell introduction, she broke out singing the Banana Boat Song, leading Belafonte and the audience to join in.
I worked with Connie again around the year 2000 when she invited several women to her cabin at Hunting Island to co-author the book, Deep in Our Hearts and then a few years ago in support of Jamil Al-Amin, also known as Rap Brown. She was passionate about getting him out of solitary confinement and returned to Georgia, where he could be closer to his family, and was a driving force for getting petitions signed and letters written while I acted as one of her foot soldiers.
Connie was extremely diplomatic, allowing her to make friends and connections with people of divergent opinions and backgrounds. She never met a stranger. She was politically astute, knew when to keep her mouth shut, and kept her eyes on the prize. She utilized her extensive network to bring financial and political support to the freedom movement.
I am blessed to have had Connie in my life. Hers was a life well lived. Though she is gone, the country is a better place because of her contributions and her influence will be felt for generations to come.
As remembered by Casey Hayden
July 19, 2020
A Heart of Gold: Three Minutes for Connie's Memorial
Connie came through Austin in the spring of 1960, took me to lunch for a hamburger, and told me about the sit ins. When she got to the part where the angry white mob put their cigarettes out on the arms of the students, we both burst into tears. At that moment a new life began for me and Connie was in it. I've loved her ever since.
That same year we moved the large, powerful, and predominantly white United States National Student Association, Connie's home turf and the sponsor of her seminar, to support SNCC. Connie details this in her memoir. As usual, her role was crucial and invisible. Our last project was Deep in Our Hearts, beginning in 1994 when I shared an idea for a collection of memoirs by white women in the Southern Freedom Movement. Connie, an historian, saw its potential immediately, and made it happen, a five year project for us all.
Connie as I knew her loved common decency, common sense, common humor, the common good, having a good time and a good scotch.
She was politically astute, pragmatic and patient. She was her own light on her own path and proceeded as the way opened. All else fell off her like water on duck's back.
She was hardworking. I've seen her stay up all night to get the plumbing fixed in a homeless shelter, and then get dressed and go to the office.
She was the salt of the earth, embracing her life completely, both the joy and the tragedy. She was resilient.
She was wise, genuinely humble, universally trusted, and greatly loved.
The Buddhists say their teachings are good at the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end. That's what Connie was like as a friend, good all the way through, to me and to SNCC, and to the whole beautiful Movement that was her home.
I'm heartened and strengthened to be here today with so many others, to sing her praises for a life well lived, complete, and shining, even in her passing, to light our way.