By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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For Dunn and Curry, the zenith came in November 1990. Outraged at the Dade County School Board's appointment of Octavio Visiedo as superintendent over Tee S. Greer, a black educator who had twice been named interim chief, the preachers called for an election-day boycott of schools. "The war has just begun," Dunn warned WMBM listeners. On the day itself, the twosome led a protest in front of the district adminstration building. Some 3000 demonstrators hoisted placards as Curry led a rousing version of James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." "Look at these caskets up here," he thundered, nodding to a bank of makeshift coffins. "They represent the fact that justice has died in Dade County." A massive crane and bulldozer stood nearby, a mocking reference to Visiedo's oft-ballyhooed leadership of a building bond program.
"It was a crazy thing, what we did," Dunn recalls. "Reverend Curry was out there in a bulletproof vest because people were calling the station telling us they were going to take us out."
If widely condemned outside the black community, the boycott proved a startling success within. An estimated 85,000 children, 1000 teachers, and 700 school bus drivers sat out the day, virtually shutting down schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. At the polls, more than 15,000 voters penciled Greer's name as a write-in candidate for school board A unprompted. Administrators panicked. Reporters hailed a revival of Miami's civil rights days. And the pair at center stage peered into the attendant TV cameras with the knowing glint of folk heroes.
The fall from grace began, Richard Dunn grumbles, with one lousy paragraph atop a meanspirited column of type in the Miami Times, Miami's black newspaper. "It seems our new young ministerial leadership has fallen on hard times," the item began. "Rev. Victor Curry has resigned from Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, and some members are claiming the reason was 'womanizing,' and we hear that the Rev. Richard Dunn has been ousted as assistant minister at Drake Memorial Baptist for 'taking liberties' with church funds. Stay Tuned." Dated June 6, 1991, the snippet appeared in the weekly installment of Spreading Larceny, a compendium of gossip widely read despite A or, more precisely, because of A its notorious inaccuracy.
The next day the Miami Herald printed a story on its Local section front page reporting that Dunn and Curry "resigned from their churches amid accusations that each abused his position." The piece went on to state that Curry "has long faced allegations that he is a womanizer," and that Dunn had dipped into his church's day-care funds to cover personal expenses after taking a salary cut.
Dunn admitted to the Herald that he misused Drake funds, but insisted he had paid the church back, and had been forgiven months before by church elders A a claim confirmed by Drake's chief trustee. Curry denied the rumors of womanizing, which he labeled old news. Both insisted scandal had nothing to do with their departures. But the unmistakable impression conveyed was that each preacher had been forced from his own pulpit.
That sense was reinforced a week later, when the Herald reiterated the claims in a second article. The story detailed a meeting called by Mount Carmel's leaders to clarify the circumstances of Curry's resignation. "This all boils down to dollars. He can't get hold of them the way he wants to," Deacon James Johnson had told a cheering throng. "We told him a lot of our good pastors had fallen by the wayside because of women and money," chipped in Chairman of Deacons James Eberhart, who went on to enumerate the hefty salary hikes and perks elders had given a thankless Curry.
The pair, who once jokingly referred to themselves as "partners in crime," now found themselves vilified in a South Florida magazine feature entitled, "How the Mighty Have Fallen" A alongside pinnacles of piety like indicted CenTrust chairman David Paul and professional egotist Donald Trump.
The low point was yet to come.
Two months after Dunn and Curry left their congregations, WMBM abruptly yanked the soapbox from beneath them. Station owner Eddie Margolis, who had once vowed to a reporter that killing Issue for the Day "would be a tragedy," decided he'd had enough of Dunn and Curry's spiel. "After the [Herald] articles it seemed to me a lot of listeners were losing interest and respect for the show," Margolis says today. "I was also concerned about the combatative nature of the program. They'd attack advertisers and attack me on the air. My gut feeling was that there wasn't going to be any compromise. So I moved them to once a week and they eventually stopped showing up."
As their stock plummeted, the ministers sputtered about a white conspiracy to bring them down A a theory to which both still adhere. "Curry and I were mobilizing this black community in recent times like no one else had ever done," Dunn proclaims. "We challenged where everyone else was afraid. That's what did us in. They couldn't attack our politics, so they went after us on morals charges."
The sentiment is common among black parishioners, activists, and politicians. "What happened to Dunn and Curry is the 101 of Besmirching Black Leaders," observes County Commissioner Art Teele. "The pattern is that blacks end up attacking other blacks on a personal level and the white media uses that A regardless of its validity A as a way of maintaining control."