The Story of Everybody

How a story makes us feel should not be the measure of its historical worth.

America’s Interstate Highway System, constructed from the 1950’s through the 1970s, saw massive multi-lane middle fingers run through poor neighborhoods and communities of color. These were districts lacking tourism, valuable land, and political power. In many instances, like in Oak Park, Alabama, they had targets on their backs.

Obliterated in the late 1950s to make way for Interstate 94, Rondo was the backbone of the Black community in St. Paul, Minnesota. By the time I-94 opened in ’68, Rondo had lost “homes, churches, schools, neighbors, and valued social contracts.” With 15% of its population displaced, 300-400 Black-owned homes destroyed, and the loss of its chapter of the NAACP, Rondo would never see its diverse and thriving trajectory fulfilled as it might have. 

Alabama’s Highway Director Sam Engelhardt, whose State Senate campaign cards read, “I STAND FOR WHITE SUPREMACY SEGREGATION,” ensured that Interstate 85 would wipe Oak Park, a neighborhood of Black civil rights leaders and its active voters, right off the map

In other states, transportation infrastructure indiscriminately zigzags where it could have continued along a straight path, flattening Black neighborhoods despite the availability of alternate routes. So went the golden age of American road building.

Yet today, “Remember Rondo!” hardly has the same ring of social acceptance as other historical reminiscences about harm caused, like “Remember Pearl Harbor” or even “Remember the Alamo.”

And why should Remember Rondo —despite its grounding in historical fact—be considered by so many these days to be anti-American blasphemy? Does its viability make you hate America, as The Heritage Foundation, Turning Point Academy, and GOP Senator Ted Cruz all insist it will? Is it really an “attack on white people,” such that teaching history of this sort is, in the words of radio talk show host Michael Savage, “exactly what was done to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s…the road to the death camps”?

Yikes! Here I thought it might inspire someone to help protect us from future historical offenses.

Critical Race Theory and culturally responsive education aren’t the same, but they are under attack by those intent on misrepresenting them. And enemies of either would have you reject unheard voices and believe that racial equity is anti-American. It’s not.

Cruz’s recent claim that Critical Race Theory, originally conceived as a framework for understanding the relationship between race and American law*, “is every bit as racist as the Klansmen in white sheets,” is idiotic. Lawyer Cruz well knows this. In its broader conception (also never shamefully hidden behind white robes) CRT provides a path to addressing the inequalities that are historically embedded in our political, social, economic systems—because only by acknowledging them can we work to change them.

Former economics professor Michael Harriot puts it this way: “A complete understanding of economics includes the laws of supply and demand, why certain metals are considered ‘precious,’ or why paper money has value. But we can’t do that without critically interrogating who made these constructs and who benefited from them.” And he’s not even talking about changing those constructs. Neither, for that matter, is enlightening students about the literally structural racism found in the Interstate Highway System a) a statement about individual racism or b) necessarily a demand for change. It’s really just an acknowledgement of a more complete historical truth.

But for the record, it’s highly unlikely that Critical Race Theory is being taught to your precious child: it’s rarely even taught to undergraduates for all its complexity. What is hopefully part of junior’s upbringing is culturally responsive education, which is less a thing than an overdue recognition that kids learn best when they have ways to connect what they learn to their own lived experiences. Brown University calls culturally responsive education, which was conceived in 1994, BTW, “a pedagogy that acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates fundamental cultures [to] offer full, equitable access to education for students from all cultures.”

Equitable access is muy anti-Americano, no?

And again, neither Critical Race Theory nor culturally responsive education explicitly advocate for, for example, calling out a Texas Legislature that threatens to withhold state funding to state universities refusing to “Remember the Alamo” the ‘right’ way, though it turns out, according to a consensus of historians, that the 13-day siege wasn’t about the mean old Mexican army after all. The Texians defending the Alamo—alongside their Tejano brethren, who have since been written out of the story—were fighting to preserve the slavery they depended upon for their cotton trade. When the Mexican government told ‘em to pay up in taxes and/or free their slaves, the ranchers turned to a carpetbagging former congressmen, a Louisiana con artist and knife-welding crackpot named Jim Bowie, for help. And they were defeated handily by the army of General Antonio López de Santa Anna.

Despite this defeat, and despite the widespread theory that Davy Crockett might have actually surrendered before he was executed, Texas lore demands fealty to the false narrative of white heroes who single handedly took on those dirty Mexicans and fought valiantly to the death.

Now look, I know everyone and their mother omits things from and/or embellishes their favorite personal stories. But when it’s a matter of a historical record on which the future gets built and funds get allocated, it’s not okay for the “natural” or “patriotic” way of seeing things to minimize the contributions of one group while inflating and celebrating the contributions of another. And if you care about truth in history, you’ll want to correct that record. Do we really want a government that deliberately stands in the way of that?  

Of course, not everyone is interested in complex truths, which both CRT and culturally responsive education enable. Us-versus-them is much easier of a narrative to create, promote, and consume. The worst part is that recent politics, fake news, and American social trends all demonstrate that truth itself is beside the point these days.

But once more, how a story makes us feel shouldn’t be the measure of its historical worth.



*Should you take issue with the contention that race and American law are intertwined, may I direct you to: Dred Scott v Sanford, Plessy v Ferguson, Brown v Board of Education, and many, many other cases illustrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s evolving thoughts on that very matter.

The completed 10-405 interchange in 1964. Courtesy of the
Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library.


A disturbed man is waiting for you on line two. The person who answered was told that your office’s best people won’t do; it’s you, or it’s nobody.

The caller refuses to reveal his location. He’s tired, alternately weeping and cursing. He can’t run anymore. It was self-defense, he insists, the murder he’s suspected of committing. In police hands, he knows he’s in for beatings and probably death.

Terrific. You’ve got enough hassles. Hell, down the hall, above the restrooms, the words “COLORED” and “WHITE” live under scant few of coats of paint, and you remember when the first had been applied. In an all white newsroom, you stick out enough.

Explicit racial segregation may have been recently outlawed, but implicit segregation is everywhere. While your colleagues don’t openly question why you’d been given the job, it’s clear many of them don’t want you to lose sight of their doubts.

You’re one of maybe three black journalists in America working for a major metropolitan newspaper –white owned, of course– and your next story is being personally handed to you. No competing for the lead. No hunting down witnesses for lengthy interviews, no knocking on doors and being told to get lost.

On the other hand, agreeing to take this call will put you in the path of 20 seething beat cops, each one rattling the starting gate for a run at your new friend. And controlling the narrative of an apprehension is one thing law enforcement officers hate the most. No way will your intrusion be easily be forgotten.

Well, let ’em remember.

You’ve got this.

You are Chuck Stone.

Your place in journalism and in the media has been controversial long before now. As the former editor of the black-owned newspaper, 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. 

The obstacles you’ve overcome and the powerful agendas you’ve battled have prepared you to take the news as it comes, without compromise. Remember how you were once fired as editor-in-chief of the Chicago Daily Defender for refusing to back off of Chicago’s “Boss,” the infamous Mayor Richard Daley?

You’d been right on the heels of this “committed white supremacist,” a public official who said to a sitting US Senator without blinking an eye, “Fuck you, you Jew son-of-a-bitch, you lousy motherfucker – go home.”* As the Senator addressed the 1968 Democratic National Convention, uttering things Daley didn’t want heard, the Boss drew a finger in a slicing motion over his throat signaling to cut the Senator’s microphone. You, Chuck Stone, stuck with the story. You had to be thrown out before you’d be intimidated into leaving.

Hell of a time in America then, eh? Hmph…Hell of a time now.

And you didn’t attack Daley’s leg-breaker public persona: you stayed focused on what he was doing while no one was looking, like playing dumb about a long-running Chicago Police torture ring. Or diverting millions in city funds to a firm that employed his son. “If a man can’t put his arms around his sons and help them,” was Daley’s retort, “what’s the world coming to?” 

For pushing for change; for what and who you chose to tackle in print; for standing up to men like Daley; and for your friendships with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael you were labeled “the angry man of the Negro press.” It was a nickname you brushed aside before entering electoral politics yourself, rolling up your sleeves as a special assistant for Congressman Clayton Powell Jr. Your time on The Hill was short-lived, but that may have been for the best given Powell’s controversial trajectory.

And either way you, Chuck Stone, were just getting started. Many of your articles would soon be published under the title, “Tell It Like It Is.” Shortly after that came Black Political Power in America, a spotlight on black exclusion from government jobs, policy-making, and essentially any position within which jobs could be created or dispensed.

You took on what you called “the testing mafia” as well, arguing 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. Finally, you became the Philadelphia Daily News’s first black columnist, which is the desk your fugitive has just demanded. 

So those 20 plus street cops waiting to pounce can just keep on sitting tight until you’re ready. You will first meet secretly with the murder suspect on the phone. 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. 

It isn’t your first time at their rodeo, no sir. At this point, this is maybe the 75th African-American fugitive suspect to call you.

And why? Because you can handle walking into dark rooms with fearful, desperate men  – murderers in most instances –  and still maintain professional equilibrium. You’re known for snapping pre-surrender mug shots, collecting details the cops will have to wait for. What are your thoughts when you do this? Are you mentally back at your desk, drafting invective for alternately thuggish and fatally bumbling Philadelphia mayors, Frank “The General” Rizzo and Wilson Goode? (They were desperate men too – desperate to get away from you!)

Your writing is informative, scathing, funny, and even safe for kids. (A children’s book?) Newsroom doubters and biggots may think you’re an ornament, another bow-tied militant ready to take on Whitey. But they wish they could come up with zingers like yours.

And 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 to earn another just like it from North Carolina’s School of Journalism.

Did I mention your days in Tuskegee, Alabama during World War II? You were a Tuskegee Red Tail navigator. You were also a husband and a father of three. You were a White House correspondent and editor of the Washington Afro-American. You were an NBC-TV news commentator for the Today show, 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, political heavies and their goons…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 man who, while at his last penitentiary, stabbed to death the Deputy Warden and then did the same thing to the Warden.

You think little of walking into such a “riot-torn hellhole” to square off with Joe-Joe, the hostage-taker with the shotgun. Was your mind still calmly back on the papers you had to grade when they told you Bowen had shot an elderly couple, killed a cop, and could kill you?

Whatever it was, you helped negotiate to free the Graterford hostages, then worked a deal for the Bowen gang’s surrender. Pennsylvania’s governor himself asked for you. He’d been told that anyone agreeing to meet with Bowen couldn’t be some plain-clothed cop or corrections mediator; it would have to be the real deal. It would have to be Chuck Stone, the black journalist known as “the surrender middleman.”

Negotiations ended with Bowen telling you, “Everything here is cool,” and it was. You probably thought Joe-Joe was a cupcake compared to Mayor Daley. And you robbed the guards of possible reprisals by maneuvering Bowen’s transfer from state to federal custody.

You died almost seven years ago now, but you lived an incredible life, always finding opportunities, promoting equity, outliving doubters, and speaking truth to men of power at every step of your career.

Today, your legacy is the push for media diversity and rests at the National Association of Black Journalists, the institution you served as founding President.

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 “Chuck” Stone, Jr., you were a true first responder to fires set by arsonists hoping to burn facts and build false narratives. I wish you were here today. 


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


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. Read more