Stone, Chuck 1924–
Chuck Stone 1924–
Journalist and educator
Chuck Stone has often cited his favorite quotation, from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”
Stone has passionately pitched into the actions of his own day in numerous memorable ways: as a firebrand editor for influential black-owned newspapers in Harlem, New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago during the dawning days of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements; as special assistant to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. during tumultuous years when the Harlem Congressman was chairing the House Education and Labor Committee; as a provocative columnist for a major Philadelphia daily paper during the epochal administrations of Mayors Frank Rizzo and Wilson Goode; and as an outspoken, award-winning educator at several universities.
Stone also helped found and in 1975 was elected first president of the National Association of Black Journalists. He left the Philadelphia Daily News in 1991, to become the Spearman professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina and three years later received the ’Tree Spirit Award” from the Freedom Forum for his work as a journalism educator.
Charles Sumner Stone, Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 21, 1924, into a relatively well-to-do family. His father, named after white abolitionist Charles Sumner, had graduated from Springfield College and worked as business manager for a hairdressing corporation.”We had a maid, a car, a chauffeur in the 1920s in St. Louis, “Stone recalled in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). “I even had roller skates with rubber wheels on them. But then my father became an alcoholic, and shattered our lives.” When Stone was 9, his mother Madalene forced her husband to leave home. By then, Stone and his three younger sisters were living in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut, where their mother, a bright, devoutly religious woman, worked for the board of education.
Stone graduated from Hartford Public High School in 1942, received U.S. Air Corps navigator training in Tuskegee, Alabama during World War II, majored in political science and economics at the elite Wesleyan University, and in 1951 took a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Chicago. He subsequently became an overseas representative for Cooperative for American Relief to Everywhere (CARE) in 1956
Born July 21, 1924, in St Louis, MO; son of Charles Sumner (a business manager) and Madalene Martha (Chafin) Stone; married Louise Davis, Oct 4,1958; children: Krishna, Allegra, Charles III. Education; Attended Springfield College, 1942-43; Wesleyan University, A.B., 1948; University of Chicago, M.A., 1951; attended University of Connecticut Law School, 1954-55; attended Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989-91. Religion: Baptist
Cooperative for American Relief to Everywhere (CARE), overseas representative, in Egypt, Gaza, and India, 1956-57; New York Age, reporter and editor, 1959-60; American Committee on Africa, New York, associate director, 1960; Washington Afro-American, White House correspondent and editor, 1960-63; Chicago Daily Defender editor-in-chief, 1963-64; special assistant to U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., 1965-67; book editor and author, 1967-70; NBC-TV, news commentator, Today show, 1969-70; Educational Testing Service, director of minority affairs, 1970-72; Philadelphia Daily News, columnist, 1972-91, senior editor, 1979-91; PBS-TV, host, Black Perspective on the News (later Another Voice), 1979-80; WWDB-radio Philadelphia, PA, talk show host, 1983-85; Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, fellow, 1982; University of Delaware, professor of English, 1984-91; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Walter Spearman Professor, 1991—; United Media, nationally syndicated columnist, 1990—. FairTest (National Center for Fair and Open Testing), Cambridge, MA, cofounder. Military Service; U.S. Army Air Corps, navigator, 1943-45.
Selected Awards: Journalist of the Year, Capitol Press Club, Washington, DC, 1961; Excellence-in-Teaching Award, University of Delaware, 1989, and University of North Carolina, 1992; National Association of Black Journalists Lifetime Achievement Award, 1992; Free Spirit Award, The Freedom Forum, 1994. Numerous honorary doctorates. Honorary federal warden, US. Bureau of Prisons, 1983.
Addresses: Office —School of Journalism and Mass Communication, CB# 3365, Howell Hall, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3365.
to 57, supervising the distribution of spinning wheels, ploughs, and other goods to poor people in Egypt, Gaza, and India.
Returning to the United States in 1958, the 34-year-old Stone joined the New York Age, first as a reporter and six months later as its editor. While at the Harlem paper, he became friends with two charismatic figures, U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and black nationalist leader Malcolm X, who were to be strong influences on his life and writing. From day one in his journalism career, Stone made himself a lightning rod for controversy.
For example, shortly after becoming editor at the Age, Stone shocked his readers by hiring a white man, John Aigner, and assigning him a page one column that ran under his photo. “I caught hell for that,” Stone later recalled in a CBB interview, laughing. Similarly, when he worked from 1960 to 1963 as White House correspondent and editor of the Washington Afro-American, he caused discomfort especially among readers inside the Kennedy administration by urgently pressuring them to move their Civil Rights agenda forward more expeditiously.
Three days before the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, Newsweek published Stone’s photo and labelled him “the angry man of the Negro press” in the United States. When he became editor-in-chief of the Chicago Daily Defender that year, his anger focused frequently on the machinations of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley. One year later, when the Defender’s relatively moderate black publisher John Sengstacke insisted that Stone tone down the paper’s attacks on the powerful Chicago mayor, Stone refused. Sengstacke fired him.
Immediately Stone was hired by Adam Powell as his chief administrative aide. Stone relished this new relationship with the charmingly arrogant, flamboyant Harlem legislator, believing that Powell was a savvy, hard-nosed power broker and the most capable black politician in the United States. “Adam knew how to cut deals, how to get things done in Washington,” Stone recalled during an interview with CBB, noting that Powell, during his 1961 to 1967 tenure as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, pushed more than 60 major bills through the House. Involved were billions of dollars for anti-poverty programs, federal aid to schools, and increases in minimum wage and Social Security benefits.
But Powell had made enemies with his wheeling and dealing in Congress, and storm clouds had begun gathering over his office well before Stone joined his staff in 1964. Eventually, Stone would be the last witness called before the House Select Committee investigating charges that Powell had wrongfully appropriated public funds. On March 1,1967, Powell’s colleagues—many of them pressured by white constituents nervous about the growing popularity of the “Black Power” concept he championed—voted 307-116 to exclude him from the House. “It was the only time I ever saw Adam cry, “Stone recalled to CBB. “He walked back from the House floor that day, leaned forward with his hands on his desk, and with tears in his eyes, he said, They kicked me out of Congress. They kicked me out.’ He couldn’t believe it.”
Stone lamented the way Powell had undermined his leadership role by failing to”take care of business” during the mid-1960s period so crucial to African Americans. But in the 1990s he still declared, while talking to CBB, Powell “the man I admire most,” and argued vehemently that his friend was barred from the 90th Congress largely because he was black and defiant—that Powell’s expulsion was a racist”political lynching” carried out through a conspiracy among Southern legislators, White House officials, labor unions, and white-owned media such as the New York Times. With Powell’s banishment, Stone lost his job. For a time he and his wife Louise, whom he had married in 1958, and their three young children were supported by his unemployment checks and her modest wages from a job in an anti-poverty program.
Stone soon found a new means of earning a living. In 1967, he edited a collection of Powell’s sermons entitled Keep the Faith, Baby/ for Trident Press. That gave him the idea of collecting some of his own work from the Age, the Afro-American, and the Defender. 73 of Stone’s newspaper columns—most of them championing Black Power—were published by Trident in 1968, under the title Tell It Like It Is. Still living in Washington, Stone turned next to writing Black Political Power in America, which The Bobbs-Merrill Co. published in 1970.
That book used what it called “Stone’s Index of Proportional Equality”—a measure of an ethnic group’s percentage within the population against the percentage of its government representatives—to demonstrate that American blacks were”a mournfully powerless people. “Stone stressed how blacks had been systematically excluded from policy-making, job-dispensing government positions. He passionately urged African Americans to learn better how to play the serious” game of ethnic politics “—to” take care of [their] own first, “the way the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, and the Polish had so successfully applied political leverage in the United States. He prodded blacks to similarly seek power by bloc voting, rejecting incumbents who had failed to represent black interests, and oscillating their allegiance from party to party so their vote would have to be “courted.”
Stone’s next book, a satiric novel titled King Strut, fictionalized Adam Powell’s rise and fall, transforming him into the “history-shattering Negro” Congressman Hiram Elliott Quinault, Jr. The novel painted a trenchantly cynical vision of the U.S. government’s mostly white political landscape, where as one of Stone’s characters observes, “anybody can be bought.” Writing King Strut proved cathartic for Stone—it released the torrent of anger he felt toward the white racism he perceived at the highest levels of power in the 1960s—and as that decade ended, he began coming out of what he later called “my most militant Black Power phase.”
In 1970, Stone became Director of Minority Affairs for the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey, assigned to investigate why minority students scored less well than whites on Standardized Aptitude Tests (SATs) marketed by ETS and used by many colleges to determine eligibility of students for admission. But Stone resigned in 1972, charging bitterly that ETS was “racist,” a “testing mafia” guilty of “institutional apathy” on racial matters. Then and later he argued that college admissions officers should weigh high school grades and individual motivation and character alongside the SAT as predicators for college achievement. To that end, he later helped found FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Stone, almost 49, was about to begin what would prove to be a highly acclaimed career as a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, one of the major Atlantic Seaboard newspapers. In 1972, that paper was looking to hire its first black columnist, and Stone thus joined the impressively small handful of American print journalists who had ever made the transition from employment in the black media to a large, white-owned metropolitan newspaper. Fate had looked favorably upon Stone by landing him as a political and social commentator in a city that, as he wrote in a 1988 column, reigned as the United States’ “heavyweight champion” of municipal corruption—“an endless cavalcade of bribed Philadelphia congressmen, graft-taking Philadelphia city councilmen, purchased Philadelphia judges, and cocaine-dealing cops.”
For most of the 1970s, Philadelphia’s city hall was commanded by a white mayor—Frank Rizzo—who prided himself on having been a head-busting “tough cop” and whose calamitous administration brought much unfavorable national publicity to the City of Brotherly Love. For most of the 1980s, city hall was commanded by a black
mayor—W. Wilson Goode—who once directed police to drop a bomb from a helicopter onto a West Philadelphia neighborhood and who eventually left office with the city facing a troubling $200 million deficit.
Through the years that Stone chronicled the “charming and churlish” Rizzo’s administration, he frequently castigated the “law-and-order evangelist” for having built a police force known for its brutality, especially toward black prisoners. Stone also blamed the “embarrassingly unlettered dolt in City Hall” for polarizing the city along racial lines and complained loudly because no blacks held key positions in Rizzo’s power structure.
But by the 1980s, African Americans had been elected to many of Philadelphia’s key political positions. Although Stone celebrated this new demonstration of black clout in government, he eventually argued acidulously that U.S. Congressman William H. Gray, III and some other local black leaders were “as inept and almost as corrupt as their white counterparts.” In particular Stone waged war against Wilson Goode. He actually wrote the first major media endorsement of Goode’s mayoral candidacy, but barely five months into Goode’s first term, Stone initiated a series of blistering attacks that would continue for eight years. In column after column he condemned Goode for failing to address Philadelphia’s substantive problems.
Stone especially censured Goode’s ill-fated decision in May of 1985 to authorize police to drop a bomb onto a rowhouse inhabited by MOVE, a violent, radical, back-to-nature group. The bomb ignited a fire that killed 11 blacks and left 250 people homeless. Later, the mayor failed to express to investigators what Stone felt was adequate contrition over the fact that five of the people killed were children, and the columnist blasted Goode as a “charcoal-broiled caricature of [former U.S. president] Richard Nixon lying through his teeth.”
In addition to such razor-edged invectives aimed at politicians, Stone’s columns were known especially for their scalding denunciations of racism and discrimination and for their persistent preaching to blacks about their need for self-improvement. Usually lively, often humorous, and always compellingly unpredictable, his columns helped make him a popular, high-profile figure among Philadelphians.
Wearing his trademark crewcut, bow tie, and Brooks suits, he also popped up constantly on national and local television and radio shows. Back in 1964, Stone had become the first black ever hired to do news commentary on U.S. television via Chicago station WCIU-TV, and he had continued doing such work for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) Today show from 1969 to 1970. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he hosted various Philadelphia radio and television talk shows and appeared as a panelist on weekly political television shows. In 1979, he also hosted Black Perspective on the News, a national political talk show that aired weekly on the Public Broadcasting Service(PBS).
Stone’s celebrity in Philadelphia was enhanced, too, by his unique involvement in the criminal justice system. His frequently fervent columns deriding the weaknesses of that system drew the notice of criminal suspects, who began going to Stone before surrendering to Philadelphia police, who had a reputation for abusing prisoners. Because of his prominence, Stone was able to assure suspects some measure of protection once they got into police hands. More than 75 fugitives—most of them black males and many of them murder suspects—“surrendered” to Stone before police came to his home or his Daily News office to make and arrest.
Stone’s work as a “surrender middleman” was hailed in a 1987 Wall Street Journal profile and in a 1991 segment on the national television program America’s Most Wanted. Stone was also featured in a 1981 Newsweek article after he risked his life to help free six hostages held in Pennsylvania’s Graterford Prison by a gang of inmates led by a shotgun-waving triple murderer. “Stone is one of Philadelphia’s few larger-than-life figures,” said Daily News managing editor Zachary Stalberg when Stone resigned as the paper’s columnist and senior editor to become a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It was not Stone’s first foray into education. Over the years he had been a visiting professor at various schools, including one semester at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. From 1984 to 1991, while still at the Daily News, he had been an English professor at the University of Delaware, teaching a full load of journalism courses. In 1989 he won Delaware’s “Excellence in Teaching” award, and after just one year at North Carolina, received the same award there.
When Stone was named the Walter Spearman Professor in North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1991, he became one of only 102 African Americans holding endowed chairs at U.S. universities. Almost immediately he became embroiled in a campus-wide fight over a proposed new black cultural center at the school. He supported the center, but drew the wrath of black student activists by arguing publicly that the money woult be better spent on bringing more good minority faculty and students to the university.
Meanwhile Stone has continued writing his column, which until 1995, was syndicated nationally by United Media to approximately 100 newspapers and to “America Online” computer subscribers. Stone told CBB: “I have tried to guide myself by the spirit of Justice Holmes’s words about sharing ’the passion and action’ of your time. A person can feel strongly about something, but he or she has got to do things to bring about change. Passion without action is useless. So, I’ve always tried to get involved in things.” But, he added with a chuckle, “All that means is that I’ve been in constant trouble with somebody.”
Black political Power in America, Bobbs-Merrill, 1968.
King Strut, Bobbs-Merrill, 1970.
Tell It Like It Is, Trident Press, 1968.
“Black Politics: Third Force, Third Party, or Third-Class lnfluence ?” and “The White Foundation’s Role in Black Oppression,” in Contemporary Black Thought:The Best From The Black Scholar, ed. Robert Chrisman and Nathan Hare, Bobbs-Merrill, 1973, pp. 271-78 and 291-95.
“A City in Black and White,” Philadelphia Magazine, September 1988, pp. 109-11, 193-97.
“The National Conference on Black Power,” in The Black Power Revolt: A Collection of Eassays, ed. Floyd B. Barbour, Extending Horizons Books, 1968, pp. 189-98.
“Thucydides’ Law of History, Or From Kerner, 1968 to Hacker, 1992,” North Carolina Law Review, June 1993, 1711-36.
Contributor to numerous other publications, including The Atlantic, The Black Collegian, The Black Scholar, The D. H. Lawrence Review, Editor and Publisher, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, The Journal of College Admissions, The NJEA Review, The Washingtonian, The Washington Monthly, etc.
Dawkins, Wayne, Black Journalists: The NABJ Story, August Press, 1993, pp. 38-40, 51-59.
Wolseley, Roland E., Black Press, U.S.A., Iowa State University Press, 1990, pp. 236-38.
Boston Globe, September 12, 1990.
Charlotte Observer, December 13, 1992, pp. 1A, 14A-15A.
Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 1965.
Delaware Today, January 1988, pp. 65-74.
Editor and Publisher, March 12, 1977, pp. 18-19; May 11,1985, pp. 50,57; January 9, p. 28; June 15, 1991, pp. 14-15,60-61.
Newsweek, August 26, 1963, pp. 50-51; November 16, 1981, p.72.
New York Times, November 4, 1981, p. A18.
Philadelphia Magazine, July 1981, pp. 116-31.
Wall Street Journal, February 5, 1987, pp. A1, A10.
Washington Journalism Review, November 1986, 38-43.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from CBB interviews with Chuck Stone in July of 1992 and November of 1994.
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