Remembering Constance Curry

unnamed-1.jpgThe Agnes Scott community mourns the passing of Constance Curry ’55, H’15 on June 20. Born in Patterson, New Jersey, Curry’s family moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where her father took a job in a textile mill. Curry thrived in high school and had plans to attend the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which was across the street from her home. But during her senior year, a friend received a scholarship to a women’s college in Georgia. Curry decided to also apply. She was accepted, received a scholarship and headed south to Agnes Scott College. “I fell in love with Agnes Scott from the first moment,” she said.

While at Agnes Scott, Curry met a student who was attending Morehouse College. That student invited her to a meeting at Morehouse. At that time, Curry was required to get written permission from a parent to attend any event at a black men’s college. Curry’s mother asked Agnes Scott officials if she could just write a “blanket permission”- so that Curry could attend whatever she wanted. Curry was ultimately able to attend the meeting, which introduced her to the civil rights movement. Curry became deeply involved in the National Student Association, an interracial organization at Agnes Scott.

Upon graduating in 1955, Curry received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in France. Over the course of her storied life and career, she received a fellowship to study at New York University, earned a Juris Doctor degree and was a national field representative with the Collegiate Council for the United Nations, director of the Southern Student Human Relations Project where she developed interracial student programs and the first white woman on the executive board of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC.)

As a civil rights activist and leader, Curry stepped up and spoke out at a time when most white people were complicit or silent in the face of systematic racism and injustice. In her role as the Southern Field Representative for the American Friends Service Committee, Curry worked on the frontlines of the desegregation effort in Mississippi. During one of her canvassing trips in that state, the group she was with was followed by a car filled with white men. Curry’s group realized they were in danger and drove swiftly to the black-owned pharmacy in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The other car suddenly gave up the chase and drove away. In reflecting on that event, Curry said “my only capitulation to fear that day was a stiff scotch when I got to my hotel room.”

Curry was well known in Atlanta, and not afraid to drive around the city in her beloved red Karmann Ghia, even after the letters “KKK” had been painted in blue on each car door. Curry served the Atlanta community as the director of human services for mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young during a time of monumental change. She continued to fight injustice as an outspoken critic of racism in the criminal justice system for the remainder of her life.

As an award-winning author and documentarian, Curry shared stories of unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. She published five major books on the Civil Rights Movement, including “Silver Rights,” which won the Lillian Smith Book Award for nonfiction in 1996. This book chronicles the life of the Carter family in Drew, Mississippi. Eight of the 11 Carter children integrated the Mississippi public schools. The Carter children were also among the first African-American graduates of the University of Mississippi.

As a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the class of 1955 and a Fulbright Scholar, Curry was a shining example to our students and the embodiment of Agnes Scott’s mission: “to think deeply, live honorably and confront the intellectual and social challenges of our times.” Agnes Scott recognized Curry’s contributions by awarding her with an honorary degree at its 2015 Commencement. The speaker that year was her close friend Ambassador Andrew Young, who also received an honorary degree.

Curry spoke fondly about her years at Agnes Scott, and how the education she received fueled her work to eliminate racism and injustice. “Connie” will be missed by our college community, and others locally, nationally and internationally.