By Norma Adams-Wade
Founding Member of NABJ
Mention the name Dr. M. K. Curry Jr. and the current generation likely will give you a blank stare. Add the name to Bishop College and the blank stare may continue. It’s really not the young one’s fault or the newcomer who has recently settled here. Time moves on, memories fade, new crises replace old ones. But recently conversations with two persons full of memories and artifacts filled my own head with recall, wonder, and regrets.
The wonder comes from the mystery of how circumstances can turn a life from distinction to debris. The regret comes from imagining how different this one life would have been if the road has turned right instead of left. Dr. M. K. Curry Jr. was president of Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, and when the college moved to Dallas in 1961. Paul Quinn College now occupies the old Bishop College campus. By many accounts, Dr. Curry was a brilliant scholar, a decent and polite man, and an insightful, stubborn, and determined leader for all the right reasons.
Dr. Curry ascended to heights at the helm of the 287-acre campus on Simpson-Stuart Road near Bonnie View Road in Southern Dallas. Then misappropriated federal money by certain members of his staff sent the college into a tailspin. The aftermath led to indictments, a lengthy federal court trial, a Dallas Black community, and HBCUs in turmoil, students, professors, and other employees caught in the crosshairs, and ultimately the demise of the college in 1988 after a stellar 107-year history.
Acquaintances said the Magnolia, Arkansas native, Morehouse College Phi Beta Kappa mathematics graduate, and former two-time president of the United Negro College Fund, died at age 77 — the same day the college properties were sold. They said Dr. Curry’s health had deteriorated by then and he was rarely seen in public. “It was very rainy on the day of his funeral, but it was well attended at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church near the campus,” recalled Dr. Harry Robinson Jr., who was the librarian at Bishop College before he led the movement that created the African American Museum at Fair Park. “Dr. Curry’s wife, Mrs. Marjorie Stewart Curry, asked me to read a poem and I did the best I could,” Dr. Robinson said.
“One of the highlights of my memory is how Dr. Curry stood up for his students. He was courageous, head-strong, and you could not control him.” I was just thinking… how does a giant of a man or woman adjust to such a fall from grace? With a man like Dr. Curry, whose intentions seemed noble – despite some of his clashes with Bishop Students who demonstrated during the 1960s civil rights era – what is the path to peace of mind?
We have examples of falls that are not pleasant to mention: newsman Matt Lauer, entrepreneur and cook Martha Stewart, and entertainers R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, Billie Holiday, and Full House star Lori Loughlin. The mighty fall, but many are not forgotten. Martha Stewart, for example, has returned from serving a felony conviction for stock fraud and gradually resumed her top spot as a business mogul. Rev. Larry J. Sanders Sr. believes a deep spiritual quality sustained Dr. Curry through losing his lofty status. Rev. Sanders was president of the last class of Bishop graduates when it closed in 1988.
He was Dr. Curry’s former driver and personal assistant until Curry died, and he has been pastor of Keller Springs Baptist Church in Carrollton for 20 years. “After he left Bishop, people would ask how he was faring, Rev. Sanders said. “I remember him responding often by saying, ‘the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” There is so much more to the story of this forgotten giant – stubborn, unrelenting. I hope to revisit his and his family’s life on another occasion.