The journalism fraternity is mourning the loss of a veteran newsman, multi-Pulitzer Prize nominee, journalism professor and founder of the National Association of Black Journalists Charles Sumner “Chuck” Stone Jr., who died April 6 at an assisted-living facility in North Carolina at the age of 89.

Around AFRO newsrooms in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Stone was a man known for his sartorial distinction—bow ties and crew cut; his winning smiles and his ability to espouse—quite passionately—on any topic he believed to be important.

“Most people who knew Chuck had a nickname for him. Mine was ‘Boom Boom,’” recalled Moses Newson, who served as a reporter and editor of the AFRO during Stone’s tenure as editor of the {Washington Afro-American.}

“He was a gung-ho type of guy,” Newson said, explaining the moniker, “Anything that came to mind, if Chuck thought it was worth something, he would talk about it or write about it.”

And, though a member of the Black press, Stone was unafraid to take Black politicians to task or to take positions that could anger the Black community.

For example, in the Nov. 25, 1961 edition of his column, “A Stone’s Throw,” he decried the lack of impartiality in measuring Black accomplishment.

“As COLORED people we exaggerate our accomplishments and our White brethren ‘compound the felony,’” Stone wrote. “White folks are so anxious to delude us into thinking that we have more power than we honestly possess. They’ll reach down into the center of our ghetto, lift up a mediocre businessman, politician, labor leader, or just a dumb colored man and tell him: ‘You’re a colored leader.’
“And do you know this idiot will believe them?” he added.

Stone’s fearless pursuit of the truth and his dogged championing of justice and equality during a time fraught with racial turbulence went beyond the newsroom, a quality that helped him maintain relationships with celebrities such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael and with the everyman.

“He had a way of dealing with all people on various levels—he knew people at the higher echelons and he kept in touch with the people in the community and that was one of the things that distinguished him,” Newson said.

While at the {Washington AFRO,} Stone testified before Congress on behalf of disadvantaged seniors and made other similar appearances and outreach. But he made his arguably greatest impact during his 19-year stint, from 1972 to 1991, with the {Philadelphia Daily News}, where he served as a senior editor and columnist.

In thousands of hard-hitting columns, Stone took on the city’s politicians, law enforcement and the pressing concerns of the community.

He engendered such a level of trust that that “more than 70 criminal suspects surrendered to him first rather than to police,” fearing brutal treatment by authorities, the {Daily News} reported in an article on its website. Stone’s office was “the only Underground Railroad for criminal suspects a newspaper ever maintained,” said Richard Aregood, the newspaper’s former editorial page editor, in a Facebook tribute.

In 1981, when a group of felons at Graterford Prison held six guards hostage during an attempted prison-break, it was Stone who was called in to negotiate.

“I damn near had a nervous breakdown,” Stone later told an interviewer about the Graterford drama, the {Daily News} cited. “I spent two days negotiating, and they released the hostages after the second day. So then when people got in trouble and there were hostages . . . they said, ‘Call Chuck Stone to get us out of this.’ “

Born in St. Louis, Mo., on July 21, 1924, and raised in Hartford, Conn., Stone served as a flight navigator—he was a Tuskegee Airman—in World War II.

Turning down a Harvard University acceptance letter, Stone earned a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in 1948. After obtaining a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, he worked in India and Egypt for CARE, a nonprofit aid organization.

On his return to the U.S., Stone joined the Black Press, first as editor of the {New York Age}, then as the White House correspondent and editor of the {Washington Afro-American.} He was eventually named editor-in-chief of the {Chicago Daily Defender.} He also was the inaugural host of the PBS program “Black Perspectives On The News.”

“He was a great writer; a very important part of the Black Press history in the civil rights battles of the ‘50s and ‘60s…. He can’t be replaced,” said AFRO Publisher and CEO John J. Oliver.

After leaving the {Defender}, Stone returned to Washington to serve as a special assistant to the unapologetically outspoken and polarizing Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

When Powell lost his seat to Charles Rangel in 1970, Stone edited a collection of Powell’s sermons given at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem titled {Keep the Faith Baby.} And he wrote books of his own, including {Tell It Like It Is} and {Black Political Power in America}; a novel, {King Strut} and a children’s book, {Squizzy, the Black Squirrel.}

From the onset of his tenure at the {Daily News}, a mainstream publication, Stone was dedicated to diversity in the newsroom and he became one of the founding members of NABJ and its first president.

“We have 44 founders, but many of them credit Chuck Stone with being the driving force behind NABJ,” association President Bob Butler said in a statement. “…He provided the rudder that steered NABJ at a time when being a member was not always easy. Some employers back then told members to choose between their jobs and NABJ. Our members now excel in all segments of the news media….There is still a lack of diversity in newsroom management, but what does exist is because of Chuck and the other founders of NABJ.”

Stone was also a beloved journalism instructor. While in Chicago, he taught at Columbia College. In Philadelphia, he taught at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Delaware. After retiring from the {News}, he joined the faculty of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And, upon his retirement from the latter in 2005, the university created the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and Media in tribute.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO