Two seats signify Thomas “Tommy” Stockett’s centers of gravity—the seat in front of his easel at home and the seat in front of his easel in the busy, cluttered, first-floor newsroom of the Baltimore Afro-American. He figures he’s spent half his life or more in one seat or the other.

His office colleagues, for his coming to work on time every day no matter what, regularly compliment the eighty-year-old Mr. Stockett, chief artist of the paper for nearly five decades. He’s still going strong—having drawn more than 7,000 cartoons and retouched over 10,000 photographs. He sees much, he hears much, he knows much but he says little.

Picture this: His hair is mostly white, and he has a slight paunch. Still, being a widower almost ten years hasn’t detracted from his handsome features and virility where and when it counts, he insists with a wink and a smile.

Proud too is he that nary a wrinkle graces his smooth, large forehead and caramel-colored round face. He wears a black stocking cap at home to keep his hair in shape for when he’s at the job or out with his artist friends. He’s partial to checkered, long-sleeve shirts and dark, casual slacks, and he worries if the snacks are sufficient when some of the grandchildren bounce over.

Mr. Stockett enjoys receiving parlor visitors from a tan winged armchair that he says catches the early morning light. If an observer peers deeply enough into his countenance, one can find his impish sense of humor coupled with a clean, old school morality, practically a child-like innocence. He swears his AFRO years have been “all fun.” Such a conviction came tumbling out during two recent interviews in his Bolton Hill home.

Scattered around his modest, clean parlor are paintings in progress. Large artistic canvases in various states of completion lean against walls. A finished work of a Navajo family is compelling in its detail: intricate costumes, stark noble faces of an ancient pride, and more. No matter how large or small the canvasses, a unifying theme among all of the works is the appearance of brightly colored human images caught up in living.

Visitors come to the recognition that while Mr. Stockett creates them, births them, rears them, and sends his paintings into the hands of buyers, many times anonymous ones, the completed works are his children. Painting up a storm from his seat at home is “what really makes me happiest. You just don’t know,” he says.

And there’s what he’s seen and heard and what he’s done from his newsroom perch at a newspaper that’s been a herald of Black political and social ambition for 111 years. He’s watched the powerful and the influential—Eleanor Roosevelt, Jim Brown, and Mohammad Ali and many others—come and go for nearly 50 years and chronicled in cartoons the rise and fall of many, yet he refuses to allow the racial restrictions of an earlier day to embitter him. Still, how well doesn’t he know, he admits almost as an apologetic after thought, that the larger society held him back as an artist because of his skin color, and Jim Crow prevented him from receiving the recognition someone of a similar artistic talent and lighter hue might have taken for granted.

“I was born Tuesday, July 29, 1924,” he says about the first time segregation directly affected him and his family, “at Johns Hopkins Hospital at 1:30 p.m. I was born in the basement. Blacks weren’t allowed to come upstairs. My father was in the coal business for himself. His name was Allen Stockett. That’s my middle name, My mother’s name was Lillie. She was a housewife.”

Tommy Stockett qualifies for labeling as unique in a world where the word has lost its nobility and punch. Somehow he managed to achieve two major goals in his life beyond having a family: pursue a rewarding artistic career through displaying his work at regional art shows and achieve respectability and stature on the news staff of a family-owned and -operated newspaper that is the oldest continuously published Black newspaper in America.

For eleven decades, the Baltimore paper and its former 12-sister editions up and down the East Coast achieved through its foreign correspondents, including Langston Hughes and Ollie Stewart, a status and fame that reached Moscow, London, and Paris.

“At first, my father did not want me to be an artist because he for a Black artist, it was a hard life…. At that time when I started as an artist, there were only four Black artists in Baltimore. If you weren’t an undertaker, preacher, doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher, or worked at the AFRO, or at the shipyard, at that time, you were no one. There were not many things that a Black could do professionally…” Mr. Stockett says.

Rough times or not, he made an impression on newspaper employees with whom he worked.

For 20 years, Laura M. Phillips, the paper’s retired archivist, watched Mr. Stockett at work, and she stashed away a treasure of remembrances.

“He could appear to be very naïve on the surface,” she says, “but I thought him to be determined. He wanted to do the best he could at all time. He would stop working on a drawing that wasn’t going well, and begin again. I helped him with his subject matter. I would give him pictures to inspire him. I looked up to his being handicapped and having seven children. He wanted a family, and he worked at the paper to support it. And his wife didn’t work either. It took a lot of nerve to be handicapped and have seven children at the time he was having a family.”

Picture this: If someone knows Mr. Stockett well, the person rarely asks about his obvious physical challenges: complete paralysis of the right arm and loss of vision in the left eye. They are not important, now. He likes to talk though about contracting polio when he was two years old and how he fought it, challenges and obstacles that might have frustrated and destroyed a less-determined artist.

“I was two years old when I got polio,” he says. “That was in 1926. It was on my right side, all the way down. I just passed out, and my parents rushed me to the hospital. They thought I might have polio. The doctors didn’t know what to do. They put casts on my arm and everything. I lost the use of my right side. The doctors gave me two years to live. When I was off my ‘probation’ after two years, that’s when I started to draw.”

Contented and jolly, Mr. Stockett concludes such things are of little regard for him.

Drama? You want to hear about drama?

People ought to hear Mr. Stockett tell tales from the old days, days when the AFRO was the cock of the walk among the nation’s Black newspapers.

Picture this: “The big nights that Joe Louis would fight,” Mr. Stockett lovingly recalls, “Lula Mackay and Sam Lacy were there. Miss Lula, the women’s editor, would write the women’s side of the fight, and Sam, as sports editor, would do the sports. Any big fight, they were there right at ringside. One time, Miss Lula sat right beside Cary Grant. I thought she would never stop talking about that.

“John H. Johnson of Johnson Publications, publisher of Ebony magazine, said that if anyone could work at the AFRO for more than three months, that person could work any place. It was just one of those things. There were very few people at that time who didn’t know about the AFRO.”

After he is dead, and people look back on his life, and see what he has done, how does he want to be remembered as an artist?

“Oh, I don’t know. I always tried to do my best. I don’t want ever to paint a bad picture.”

When it is his time to go, “when the last trumpet sounds for me, be ready. And you know what I want to hear when I get ‘up there’? I want to hear Him say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into thy rest.’ That will be enough for me. Yep, that’s what I want to hear.”

Former AFRO Editor Paul Evans wrote a profile of long time AFRO editorial cartoonist, the award winning Thomas Stockett, prior to his death in 2007, in 2003.