YOU are Chuck Stone

You’re told someone upset is waiting to speak with you on line two.

Former Daily News columnist Chuck Stone_Daily News photo by G.W. MillerHe’s alternately weeping and cursing. He’d just informed whoever answered that your office’s most experienced people don’t count for shit: it’s you or nobody.

He’s on the run, apparently, and deathly afraid of the cops learning his location. He’s a suspected murderer they’ve been after for months. He’s tired. He can’t run anymore. It was self-defense, he insists, but in police custody he knows he’s in for beatings and probably death.

Terrific. You’ve got it bad enough as it is; you don’t need more hassles. As the only black man with a desk in this white staff room, you already stick out like a sore thumb. Hell, just out in the hallway, above the restrooms, the words “COLORED” and “WHITE” are under scant few of coats of paint –and you remember when the first was applied.

THE NEWSROOMExplicit racial segregation may have been recently outlawed, but the leftovers of implicit segregation are everywhere. You know some of your colleagues are lurking, questioning why you’d even been given this job. You’re one of maybe three black journalists in America working for a major metropolitan newspaper (white owned, of course).

Not only are you lucky you’re not pushing a broom, here’s your next story being handed to you personally. No hunting down witnesses for lengthy interviews, no knocking on doors or being told to get lost. All so you can stand in the way of 20 seething badges, each of whom is banging at the starting gate for a run at your new friend. There are few things cops hate more than not controlling the narrative of an apprehension, and this won’t easily be forgotten.

But that’s okay: you’ve got this. You are Chuck Stone.

AP PHOTO_Chuck Stone poses in the newsroom of the Philadelphia Daily News_1984.Your place in journalism and in the media has been controversial long before now. And for whatever it’s worth, as the former editor of the black-owned weekly, New York Age, you once put a white dude on staff, gave him a page-one column, and let him fend for himself in your newsroom. So sitting behind this desk, about to take the fugitive’s call…at least you’ve lived the principle of not asking someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself, even if fate did reverse that order. The places you’ve been and the powerful agendas you’ve battled required such lessons to be learned.

Richard J. Daley_Boss of ChicagoRemember how you were fired as editor-in-chief of the Chicago Daily Defender for refusing to back off of Chicago’s infamous “Boss,” Mayor Richard J. Daley? Until then you unflinchingly covered the administration of a guy who’d say to a sitting US Senator without blinking an eye, “Fuck you, you Jew son-of-a-bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home.”* Before that, even, Daley had sliced his neck with an index finger in a signal to the ’68 DNC podium to cut the the man’s microphone, as the Senator was speaking of things the Boss didn’t want heard.

It was a hell of a time in America then, eh?

But rather than simply attack Daley’s leg-breaker public persona, you stayed focused on what he did while no one was looking, like divert millions in city funds to a firm that employed his son. (Daley’s retort was, “If a man can’t put his arms around his sons and help them, then what’s the world coming to?”)

Where Excuses Go to Die_1st Edition Copy of Black Political Power in America by Chuck StoneFor pushing for change; for what you chose to write about; for standing up to men like Daley; and for your friendship with Malcolm X you were labeled “the angry man of the Negro press.” It was a nickname you brushed aside with a smile before entering politics yourself. And when the House Select Committee wound up investigating the candidate whose staff you’d joined, you lost your job then, too, for hitching your wagon to someone the Southern politicians and their money men likely considered another “uppity” black man.

These events notwithstanding, you, Chuck Stone, were just getting started.

Many of your printed articles soon were published under the title, Tell It Like It Is. Following that, you wrote and published Black Political Power in America, a spotlight on black exclusion from government jobs, policy-making, and essentially any position from which jobs could be created or dispensed.

TESTING MAFIA_Chuck StoneYou then took on what you called “the testing mafia,” claiming that SATs and ACTs are virtually pointless since, “in an unequal society, standardized test scores only reflect inequality.” If that wasn’t enough (and because you are Chuck Stone), you founded the Cambridge-based National Center for Fair and Open Testing or “FairTest.” Finally, you became the Philadelphia Daily News’s first black columnist, which is the desk your fugitive has just asked for.

Chuck Stone_The Surrender MiddlemanYou will referee this narrative, so those 20 plus street cops waiting to pounce can just sit tight until you’re ready for them. You will first meet secretly with the murder suspect. You will calm him down and prepare him. You will take pictures of his face from multiple angles, just in case the police decide to go to town on it. And you’ll look into his story.

It ain’t your first time at this rodeo, no sir: this is maybe the 75th African-American fugitive suspect to call you, “the surrender middleman.”

RIZZO MEANS BUSINESS YOU SONS-A-BITCHESLet the Fire BurnAnd why? Because you can handle walking into dark rooms with fearful, desperate men   –murderers in most instances–   while still maintaining professional equilibrium and taking your pre-surrender mug shots, collecting details the cops have to wait for. What’s on your mind when you do this? The word count on a Philadelphia graft and corruption piece you’re simultaneously writing? Are you mentally back at your desk, drafting invective for thuggish and fatally bumbling Philly mayors Frank Rizzo and Wilson Goode?

They were desperate men too – desperate to get away from you!

Your writing style is informative, scathing, and funny. The doubters in the newsroom may think you’re there for show, a militant nationalist ready to take on Whitey at the drop of a hat. But they wish they could come up with zingers like yours.

YOU ARE CHUCK STONEAnd you, Chuck Stone, are not one of those people to climb a ladder only to pull it up behind him. You taught students to do what you do, though perhaps less controversially. You became an English professor at the University of Delaware. And leave it to you to win the city’s Excellence in Teaching award, then go and earn another just like it from North Carolina’s School of Journalism.

Chuck Stone_Tuskegee Red Tail NavigatorDid I mention your days in Tuskegee, Alabama during World War II? You were a Tuskegee Red Tail navigator. You also were a father of three and a husband to boot. You were a White House correspondent and editor of the Washington Afro-American. You were an NBC-TV news commentator for the Today show, a Black Power advocate, and before that a distributor of food and farm equipment to forgotten farmers in Egypt and India. You invented “Stone’s Index of Proportional Equality,” a tool used to measure an ethnic group’s percentage in the population against its percentage of elected officials.

And all the while, you’ve been exposing police brutality, corrupt college placement testing, political strong-armers and their henchmen…And you still aren’t satisfied. You’re Chuck Stone, and you don’t let your bow tie or flat-top fool anyone. Not even the inmates at Pennsylvania’s Graterford Prison, who’ve just taken 39 hostages under the leadership of Joe-Joe Bowen, a fearsome Black Liberation Army soldier.

1981 Graterford Prison Riot_Philadelphia Daily NewsYou think little of walking into a “riot-torn hellhole” to square off with the one waving the shotgun. When they told you Bowen had already shot an elderly couple, killed a cop, a warden, and then the warden’s deputy – what were you doing, grading student papers?

Whatever it was, you helped negotiate to free the Graterford hostages and then worked a deal for Bowen’s gang’s surrender. Pennsylvania’s governor himself had asked you to give it a shot, probably because he knew that anyone going in there couldn’t be some corrections administrator; it would have to be the real deal. It would have to be Chuck Stone. Negotiations ended with Bowen telling you, “Everything here is cool,” and the man has been in solitary ever since. But you probably thought Joe-Joe was a cupcake compared to Bossman Daley, eh?

You died this week, but you took pictures of this place (from multiple angles) before you passed. You left impressive images of Chuck Stone with everyone you encountered. You lived an incredible life, always finding opportunities and outliving the lurkers, freely challenging, insulting, and speaking truth to men of power with every step of your career.

Today, your legacy rests at the National Association of Black Journalists, the institution you co-founded.

Whoever’s up next to speak to the fugitive on line two, we can only hope he’ll live up to your standards. (Literally, the ones you called “FEAT” for Fairness, Even-handedness, Accuracy and Thoroughness.)

Charles Sumner “Chuck” Stone, Jr., you can rest now.

 

 

* Allegedly said to Senator Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, when the Senator challenged Daley’s use of force during the ’68 DNC  (Source: Wikiquote)
 

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2 Responses to “YOU are Chuck Stone”

  1. María Isabel says:

    Powerful and heartfelt obit. So how about that veiled racism? Still with us. Prompted I believe, by fear and mistrust.

  2. Helen says:

    Wonderful. One of the best written, most moving pieces I’ve read in a long time.

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