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Mary C. Curtis

Newspaper editor and news correspondent Mary C. Curtis was born on September 4, 1953 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was the youngest of five children born to Thomas Curtis and Evelyn Curtis. After graduating from Seton High School in Baltimore, Maryland in 1971, she enrolled at Fordham University in New York City and graduated form there in 1975 with her B.A. degree in communications. In 2006, Curtis was awarded a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University.

From 1985 through 1994, Curtis served in a variety of editing positions at The New York Times, including as editor of “Home, Education, Life” and “The Living Arts,” a section in the National Edition that she helped to develop. She also served as the Features editor for the Arts and Entertainment section at The Sun in Baltimore. In addition, Curtis held positions as a reporter and as an editor with The Associated Press in New York, Hartford, Connecticut and with the Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. She also contributed news articles to TheRoot.com, theGrio.com, National Public Radio Creative Loafing , and served as a national correspondent for AOL’s PoliticsDaily.com. In 2011, she joined the The Washington Post as a contributor for the blog, “She the People.” She covered the 2012 Democratic National Convention for The Charlotte Observer.

Curtis is a member the National Association of Black Journalists. Curtis received the Carmage Walls Prize in 2005 for commentary in a competition sponsored by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. She is the recipient of several Green Eyeshade Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). The North Carolina Associated Press recognized Curtis with the Thomas Wolfe Award for her writing “My Rebel Journey,” an examination of Civil War heritage groups. She received the Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications in 2010 and 2012. Curtis was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Region IV National Association of Black Journalists in 2004.

Curtis and her husband, Martin F. Olsen, live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mary C. Curtis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 8, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.156

Sex

Female

Interview Date

5/8/2013

Last Name

Curtis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

C.

Schools

Harvard University

Fordham University

The Seton Keough High School

St. Pius V Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Mary

Birth City, State, Country

Baltimore

HM ID

CUR05

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Maryland

Favorite Vacation Destination

St. Tropez

Favorite Quote

To whom much is given, much is required.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/4/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charlotte

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fish

Short Description

Newspaper editor, newspaper correspondent, and newspaper columnist Mary C. Curtis (1953 - ) former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and editor at The New York Times, was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Region IV NABJ.

Employment

Washington Post

Creative Loafing Atlanta

Fox Charlotte

AOL

Grio, The

CNN

Charlotte Observer

New York Times

Baltimore Sun

Arizona Daily Star

Associated Press (AP)

Traveler's Insurance, Co.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mary C. Curtis

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mary C. Curtis lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mary C. Curtis describes her mother's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her maternal great-grandmother, who was born into slavery

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mary C. Curtis recalls her mother's upbringing in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mary C. Curtis continues to describe her mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mary C. Curtis describes her father's family background and her father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mary C. Curtis describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mary C. Curtis describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mary C. Curtis lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mary C. Curtis describes being the youngest of five children

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mary C. Curtis recalls her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mary C. Curtis describes her neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mary C. Curtis describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mary C. Curtis remembers being on the television show 'Romper Room'

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mary C. Curtis describes her elementary school, St. Pius the Fifth, run by the Oblate nuns

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mary C. Curtis recounts how books influenced her as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mary C. Curtis describes her impressions of her family's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mary C. Curtis shares her love of the Arts and how the Arts have shaped her life and career

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mary C. Curtis talks about Seton High School, an integrated Catholic high school in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mary C. Curtis discusses her experiences at Seton High School in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mary C. Curtis remembers attending her fortieth high school class reunion

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mary C. Curtis shares her memories attending Fordham University in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mary C. Curtis recalls meeting her husband at Fordham University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her favorite professors and guest speakers at Fordham University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mary C. Curtis reflects on her family's upward mobility

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mary C. Curtis discusses the journalists she admired in the 1970s

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mary C. Curtis describes working with the Associated Press after graduation from Fordham University, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mary C. Curtis describes how she was treated as a young black female reporter in the 1970s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mary C. Curtis describes taking a break from journalism during the years of 1977-1981

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mary C. Curtis recalls attending the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in 1981

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her experience in Tucson, Arizona from 1981-1983

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mary C. Curtis describes being a black female journalist in the 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mary C. Curtis shares some memories of living and working in Tucson, Arizona

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mary C. Curtis describes moving back to the East Coast and working at The Baltimore Sun in 1983

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mary C. Curtis talks about joining the National Association of Black Journalists in 1984

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mary C. Curtis talks about diversity and the benefits of being involved with the National Association of Black Journalists

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mary C. Curtis talks about the importance of diversity of views in news stories

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her work at the Baltimore Sun

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mary C. Curtis describes her transition to the New York Times

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Mary C. Curtis describes moving to Charlotte, North Carolina to work for the Charlotte Observer

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her son, Zane, and the move to Charlotte, North Carolina from New York

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Mary C. Curtis describes the vibrancy of Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her Neiman Foundation Fellowship at Harvard University in 2005, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her Neiman Foundation Fellowship at Harvard University in 2005, part 2

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her Neiman Foundation Fellowship at Harvard University in 2005, part 3

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Mary C. Curtis describes her return to Charlotte, North Carolina after her 2006 year at Harvard University

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her 2004 Thomas Wolfe award-winning article

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Mary C. Curtis talks about the aftermath of her Thomas-Wolfe award winning article in 2004

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her coverage of the 2007-2008 primary elections

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Mary C. Curtis recalls covering the 2008 elections and interviewing President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Mary C. Curtis talks about being laid off at the Charlotte Observer in 2008 and her journalism work since then

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Mary C. Curtis talks about how she covers conservative news stories

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her journalistic philosophy

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Mary C. Curtis talks about interviewing Franklin McCain of North Carolina

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Mary C. Curtis describes her different journalist affiliations

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Mary C. Curtis describes the arts events she covered

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Mary C. Curtis talks about her family and her son, Zane

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Mary C. Curtis talks about the future

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Mary C. Curtis talks about being on 'Jeopardy'

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Mary C. Curtis describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Mary C. Curtis narrates her photographs

DASession

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DATape

5$6

DAStory

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DATitle
Mary C. Curtis talks about diversity and the benefits of being involved with the National Association of Black Journalists
Mary C. Curtis talks about her coverage of the 2007-2008 primary elections
Transcript
Now, this is something I hear from a lot of black journalists, that they really feel, there's a particular kind of loneliness working at a white newspaper, basically, where you just don't have the--they feel, you know, it takes a lot of stamina to, you know, to stay, you know, withstand it, I guess, and you know, that's what I--that's what people keep saying, that it's a lot of pressure (unclear) (simultaneous)-$$Well, I'm not sure I'd use the word stamina as much as, you know, you are, you're doing your job, but say, if you're talking about news judgment or how a story is played or you wanna make sure that when you have people of color in the paper, that you--I'm in features. So most of the minorities you would see on the pages are in Metro or news, when they're doing something or is the face of welfare or poor people or--I mean not always. But it's usually news. And to me, I love features because it humanizes people. And you have the universal experiences. We all garden, we all cook, we all go to church. We have these experiences we share, so it's especially important that minorities are represented in stories in the food section, in the feature section, in the faith section, you know, all of these--in the entertainment section, and all of these sections. So you see people doing the same things you do. When you have a home story that is about a minority family in a home, these kinds of things. So you're always trying to make sure that happens, to make sure if you do a feature story, say, on romance, on couples, that there's diversity, and not just diversity of race, but of income level, of geography, so you're not just picking people from some part of the city, certain neighborhoods, of age. So if you have a romance story, maybe older people, and so you're mindful of that. But when you're making that, you're making that case every day in the newsroom, and you are doing your job and trying to make people understand that this is just not an extra to be put in a story, but it makes the story more complete and more accurate. So it's good journalism, and sometimes that's pressure because people are under deadline pressure. People, of course, relate more to people like themselves, so when you are alone in the newspaper or in any media organization, you're it or there's a few of you. So it is, I would say it's not stamina, but it's every day, it's--it takes energy. It takes energy, and I do think, you know, people kid about the parties at NABJ [National Association of Black Journalists], but part of it is the relaxation of being there and of knowing, when you say--it's, you're talking in a shorthand because when you say, I was trying to convince my editor, and they say, oh, I know, you know (laughter). So it's a meeting, you don't have to explain yourself. You don't have to be anyone but yourself. And I think there's a certain comfort level in that. It's the people, the way, reason people belong to any club. And I think a misnomer when people say, well, we, there's no national organization of white journalists. Well, first of all there're people of every color that belong to NABJ [National Association of Black Journalists]. White people do belong to it, Hispanic people, it's, if you believe in the mission of diversity. So it's not an exclusive organization. It's an inclusive organization, just like NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] or any of those organizations. It is inclusive. It's about the message, and it's just nice knowing you're with people that, people who, that particular message is important to those people. And so, yeah, I think it is relaxing, and when, that very last night before you come back, there usually is a dance. And there's music and people are dancing, and it is a release of sorts. And I think there's nothing wrong with that. You know, you've worked hard, you're--you know, even at NABJ [National Association of Black Journalists], you're wearing your business clothes. You never know who you're gonna run into, that give you a future job. You're going to the job fairs. So it's about business and it's about skills development, but it's also about being with folks, you know, who--I like to say it is a shorthand. And it's about catching up with people that you haven't seen for a while because the nature of the business is that you travel to different places. You get a job here or there. So it's saying, oh, my goodness, you know. I haven't seen you. You're working in Detroit [Michigan] now, that kind of thing. So I, it's work and it's therapy (laughter). We all need that, so I agree, I agree. It's, you know, I've never--I don't think that newspapers or media organizations are any more discriminatory or whatever as any part of society. But I do think sometimes we have to emphasize that they are, indeed, a part of society. So it's not as though the people who work there--I do think sometimes journalists think, we don't have those problems because we're more open minded than that. Well, the people are human beings. When you go into the door of whatever organization, you don't drop society's roles. You don't drop any prejudices at the door because you're a journalist. You hope to, and you work at it, but we all bring something to it. So that's a part of it.$And Ed Sanders was just--and later, they made him the principal of the school, a white school that--and he hired the first black teacher there, B.B. Delaine, I think, who was the son of the Reverend Delaine of the Clarendon County case in South Carolina that was part of the 'Brown v. Board of Education' [1954]. So there's so much Civil Rights history here. But it's, you're right, you know. It, sometimes it takes a lot, but if you just say, "I'm gonna do what I have to do." So he taught me something, but I was--so that was in the '[Charlotte] Observer' too, and then when the South Carolina primaries happened in 2000--started going in 2007, I went to the debate in South Carolina, the first Democratic debate. And I saw on the stage, [President] Barack Obama and [Senator] Hillary Clinton and [Senator] John Edwards and [Governor] Bill Richardson and all these folks, [Senator] Joe Biden, I thought, you know, this is gonna be something. This is gonna be something. So I really hadn't been that involved in politics, but, you know, sometimes you see a story and you gotta grab a hold of it. And you go to that debate and then you go to the Republican debate, and you have to, you need a cheat sheet because they all look the same, you know, well, you know who [Mayor Rudy] Giuliani and [Senator John] McCain and [Governor Mitt] Romney are, but, and you realize how different it's gonna be, and this is gonna be historic. So I just got a hold of that story, tried to make it mine, got the paper's first two interviews with [President] Barack Obama, the only interview with [Senator] Hillary Clinton, followed [Governor] Mike Huckabee around South Carolina, just tried to tell that story, and that--tried to tell that story, tried to tell it.$$Now, this is a campaign that North Carolina's favorite son, [Senator] John Edwards, kind of went down and the--he had issues with his marriage and all that got in the press and-$$Yeah, although, not at the beginning there. I mean in 2000--the 2008 campaign, remember that famous debate in Myrtle Beach [South Carolina] where [Senator] Hillary Clinton and [President] Barack Obama were going at each other, and their supporters were in front with dueling cards. And [Senator] John Edwards was sort of the peacemaker.$$Oh, sure, John Edwards was-$$So calm.$$--a favorite of a lot of people, you know-$$Yeah, and then there were some people who thought, "Well, this isn't gonna be the time for a woman or a minority, that the Democrat--he would be the white guy Democrat that people come back to" because, remember that was the year after [President George W.] Bush where it was such a prime year for a Democrat. So, that's why a lot of people got frustrated when what came out, came out because if he had gotten it, of course, it would have come out, and that would have totally ruined it for it. But, yeah, it was obviously, another great time to be a journalist. Even though North Carolina's primary was late, it actually counted. But I initially covered the--South Carolina is one of the first in the South. So I got to go down there and write columns off of the appearances, see [Presdient] Bill Clinton just hang out and go out around South Carolina with the Republicans and Democrats, watch a Baptist minister bless [Governor] Mike Huckabee and, you know, all of that. It was, I really liked to see the--my piece, my column started to be on the intersection of all of these things, to look at it, and to see the culture piece in the campaigns because what are debates, but political theater? So when you're in a Republican debate and they're talking about torture and all of them are, you know, Romney's, I'm pro-Guantanamo, let's expand it, and, you know, you have [Representative] Tom Tancredo talk about, you know, Jack Ry[an], you know, "Send in the guy from '24'" and [Senator] John McCain says, "You know, we shouldn't torture because it's not about who they are. It's about who we are." And no one applauds, and you realize the only guy against it on the stage is the guy who's been tortured. So that's the story. You know, so it's finding that piece of, looking at it and saying, wow, you know. To watch Oprah [Winfrey] appearing with [President Barack] Obama in South Carolina in a stadium. It was just covering the scene. And I went on to Denver, not for the '[Charlotte] Observer', actually. They didn't send me to the Democratic National Convention. But I got a chance to go and I went and covered for Neiman [Foundation], wouldn't have missed it, went on my own time. That's when the papers were cutting back. I was starting to see the writing on the wall. So, although, you know, it was a great experience.