PHILADELPHIA IS segregated and diverse, impoverished and affluent, corrupt and pristine. But even with all its contradictions, it is a better Philadelphia than it used to be, largely due to the efforts of legendary Philadelphia Daily News columnist Chuck Stone. He died Sunday at the age of 89.
In the coming days, you’ll read about his amazing life. He was born in Hartford, Conn., the son of professionals who worked in education. He was a navigator in the Tuskegee Airmen. He traveled to India and Africa working for CARE, was a special assistant to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and cultivated relationships with both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Stone, whose life and influence spanned the globe, was an advocate for others. He co-founded the National Association of Black Journalists, and opened doors so that writers like myself could walk through.
“In 1972, when Stone became a political columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News, I was 5-years-old. There was no Internet … There was only the newspaper, and the images on its pages could determine how an entire community was framed. That’s why Stone’s image mattered.”But my recollections of Stone aren’t rooted in his journalism career, his stint as a University of North Carolina professor, or his two Pulitzer nominations. My memories of Stone are pinned to a single, simple image—his face.
Seeing Chuck Stone
In 1972, when Stone became a political columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News, I was 5-years-old. There was no Internet, and neither cable television nor social media existed. There was only the newspaper, and the images on its pages could determine how an entire community was framed. That’s why Stone’s image mattered.
For 20 years, Stone’s face, staring out at me from the pages of the newspaper, communicated what was possible. That face—with skin a little darker than that of the other columnists—told me that journalism was an option for me. Adorned with glasses, and an intellect that shone brightly, that face showed me that a black man could be celebrated for his mind. But Stone’s image sent messages to other men as well—men whose reasons for trusting Stone were more complex than my own.
Over his two decades as a columnist, more than 75 murder suspects surrendered to Stone rather than to law-enforcement authorities, according to the Daily News. I believe they did so because Stone wrote with an unyielding sense of integrity. He called it as he saw it, and an entire city respected him for his candor.
A man universally respected
I still remember when I worked as a police dispatcher in the early 90s. There was a prank caller who phoned 911 so regularly that the call takers gave him a nickname—AC/DC. We called him that because he always began his calls the same way:
“Chuck Stone Daily News AC/DC …” The calls usually went downhill from there. But our favorite prank caller proved one thing. He proved that even offbeat Philadelphians knew Chuck Stone came first.
I never met Chuck Stone personally, but I stand on his shoulders, I benefit from his legacy, and I strive to meet his standard. He was an example of what all journalists should be. He was a man whose integrity was beyond reproach. He could communicate an idea with clarity and force. He could engender the trust of both the powerful and the powerless. He was, in short, a voice.
We will miss that voice for its intellect and its wit, but we will rest in the knowledge that Chuck Stone’s voice lives on. It lives through the books and columns he left behind. It lives through the countless students he taught the craft. It lives through the men who trusted him enough to place their lives in his hands. It lives through the journalists for whom he opened doors.
Rest in peace, Chuck Stone. Thank you for setting the bar so very high.
Photo: Newspaper columnist Chuck Stone, poses in the newsroom of the Daily News in Philadelphia, February 15, 1984. Then 59, Stone had already helped end two hostage sieges and arranged for the surrender of 21 fugitives. (AP Photo)
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author and award-winning journalist. He is also the editor and creator of Solomonjones.com. Click here to learn more about Solomon