Some of Ms. Curry’s contributions were small but crucial to the movement. Julian Bond, a co-founder of S.N.C.C., once recalled how Ms. Curry had given him a key to her office to use a mimeograph machine. The fund-raising letters he printed, along with the student association network generally, “was an invaluable resource for recruiting money and political support,” he said.
In 1964, working as a Southern field representative for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, Ms. Curry traveled to counties in Mississippi that were under court order to desegregate schools. Working covertly (she pretended to be the visiting college roommate of a local organizer), she sought to persuade the local white community to accept desegregation and investigated cases of reprisals against Black families.
Decades later, Ms. Curry returned to Mississippi to interview Matthew and Mae Bertha Carter, Black sharecroppers who, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, encountered vicious bigotry after their children began attending a recently desegregated school in 1965. The Carters were taunted, denied credit by shopkeepers and kicked off the land they worked, but they persisted, winning a lawsuit that confirmed their children’s right to attend the school.
It is their story that Ms. Curry tells in “Silver Rights” (1995), which takes its title from the way elderly Black Southerners had phrased the word “civil.” It was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times and a finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. (Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote the introduction.) And it gave Ms. Curry a new, public-facing role in the fight for equality.
Constance Winifred Curry was born on July 19, 1933, in Paterson, N.J. Her parents, Ernest and Hazel (Richmond) Curry, were immigrants from Belfast, Northern Ireland. They settled first in the Northeast and then relocated to Greensboro, N.C., when Constance was in the third-grade. Her father went to work in the textile industry.
In “Deep in Our Hearts” (2000), a book that Ms. Curry co-authored about the lives of white women in the freedom movement, she credited her parents’ history with her social consciousness.
“It is clear to me that the Irish struggle got planted deep in my heart and soul at an early age,” she wrote, “and that its lessons and music and poetry were easily transferred to the Southern freedom struggle.”