Chuck Stone

Sam Smith – Chuck Stone, who edited several newspapers, was a Tuskegee Airman, a professor, columnist and founding president of the National Association of Black Journalists, has passed at age 89. Stone’s columns also appeared regularly in the Progressive Review for many years.

Paul Brock described Stone this way:

“Chuck Stone was a journalistic legend. He had edited three influential black newspapers — the New York Age, the Washington Afro-American and the Chicago Defender. He had written two nonfiction books, ‘Tell It Like It Is’ and ‘Black Political Power in America,’ and a novel, ‘King Strut.’ He had been Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell’s chief administrative assistant and speechwriter…

“As the now-defunct Washington Star put it in 1969, Stone was a ‘tough-minded militant’ who ‘probably poured forth more angry rhetoric, ruffled more political moderates and simultaneously pacified and frightened more whites than most of (Washington’s) other black leaders.’ He mellowed not one bit after becoming an outspoken columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News in 1971.

“Enough of a firebrand to have worked with Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, yet with unassailable journalistic credentials, the sharp- tongued but affable Stone was superbly suited to be the first leader of an organization seeking to not only change the way the media would tell black America’s story, but who was going to tell it. . . .”

I first met Chuck Stone in 1967 after writing a defense of his boss – then threatened with expulsion from Congress – in a piece titled, “Keep the Seat, Baby,” which argued:

The Harlem legislator and theologian is accused of looseness with (in order of importance to the national mind) women, tongue and federal monies. He has been in contempt of civil authority, a fugitive from the law, and he refuses to show any remorse for his failings. On the contrary, he has been arrogant and flippant.

The punishment proposed for Mr. Powell is the loss of his congressional seat. A strong case can be made against such punishment on constitutional and other legal grounds. Furthermore, there is a good defense based on precedent. As recently as 1956, a member of the House was convicted of income tax evasion, sentenced to jail and fined $10,000. Not only did the offending gentleman subsequently regain his seat, but his seniority as well. Senator Dodd has not been made to stand aside while more serious charges against him are examined. Nor were Mississippi’s congressmen unseated last session despite massive evidence of the disenfranchisement of Negroes In their districts. Congress has repeatedly declined to act In cases involving far more evil thin that alleged in the instance of Powell. Even Senator McCarthy got off with censure.

In fact, should the charges lodged against the former chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee be pressed with equal vigor against all other deserving legislators in the land, it would become difficult to raise a quorum in either house of Congress or for our state legislatures to exist at all.

The article produced a phone call from Stone, then Powell’s top aide. Stone arranged for me to meet with Powell. I walked in about 10 am one morning. His suite had the longest office bar I had ever seen. Powell opened the cabinet doors to display a remarkably generous selection of liquors. “This, Sam,” the Reverend Powell said, “is what comes of serving the lord.”

Chuck and I became friends and, for a 30-something white guy embroiled in covering and participating in the civil rights movement , the former editor of the Washington Afro American also provided friendly counsel as I worked the beat and went through the 1968 riots, some of which were only four blocks from my house.

Not long thereafter, we began running his columns – until the Washington Star took him on. But that didn’t work too well as we explained to readers in 1974:

Readers of the Washington Star recently lost the services of Chuck Stone, who had been writing columns for the Star’s new zoned editions. The problem, it seems, was that the Star’s management did not want Stone writing on national issues, but as Stone pointed out in a letter to a friend, “As one of only eight black columnists in America, I ran into difficulty not commenting on those important national issues that critically affect black Americans, other minorities, working class people, women and low income groups – the five groups with whom I identify most closely. ” When the Star refused to run his column on the Sears suit, Stone called it quits.

The Gazette [our previous name] believing in leaving no Stone spurned, invited Chuck to return to these pages he once graced a number of years ago. Happily, he accepted and so will be appearing regularly in the Gazette. We begin, fittingly perhaps, with the column the Star wouldn’t run.

And on it went until Chuck became a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. There he not only livened up the type but performed a remarkable service, which I described this way:

As columnist and senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, 75 homicide suspects surrendered to him personally rather than take their chances with the Philadelphia police department. Black journalist Stone also negotiated the end of five hostage crises, once at gun point. “I learned how to listen,” he says. Stone believes in building what he calls “the reciprocity of civility.”

As Wayne Dawkins noted in “Black Journalists: The NABJ Story,” the suspects feared for their safety once in police custody. They would be photographed with Stone to confirm their condition and Stone would call the police, who would handcuff the suspect and transport the person to jail.”

I once asked Chuck what was the best way to get along with other Americans. His answer: Treat them like a member of your family.”


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