By Julissa Catalan
Charles Stone, regarded as a trailblazer and one of the most trusted journalists in the Black community, has died.
During his 19 years as a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, a total of 75 people turned themselves into authorities after speaking with Stone. All 75 were Black and afraid of being beaten or killed due to the reputation the Philadelphia police had acquired over the years of having institutionalized brutality.
Stone would interview and take photos of each suspect prior to them turning themselves in—this way he recorded proof of what the person looked like just before being taken into custody by authorities. He would then call the police himself and the subjects would surrender themselves to Stone, rather than to police, as a form of protection.
Having developed a credible reputation of advocating for Blacks against police brutality and racism, inmates called on him in 1981 to negotiate with police following an attempted escape from Grateford Prison in Philadelphia. Two days later, Stone was able to have the inmates surrender themselves, as well as the six hostages they had taken. Everyone emerged unharmed.
“I damn near had a nervous breakdown,” Stone later told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “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.'”
Charles Sumner “Chuck” Stone Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1924. He grew up in Hartford, Connecticut before joining the Army as a flight navigator. He chose Wesleyan University over Harvard and graduated with a Bachelors degree in political science and economics. He then went on to earn a Masters degree in sociology from the University of Chicago.
His first job as a writer was with New York Age, and he worked at the Washington Afro-American before serving as editor-in-chief of the Chicago Daily Defender.
He spent a short time as a special assistant to Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., where he befriended Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael.
Shortly after his move to the Philadelphia Daily News—where he made history as its first Black columnist—he founded the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), an organization that supports and empowers Blacks in the industry.
“He really didn’t expect NABJ to be more than about 300 members,” said Richard Prince, a columnist at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. The organization now has more than 10 times that number, and has been the inspiration for several similar affinity groups serving journalists who are Asian American, Latino, Native American and LGBT.
Stone retired in 1991, going on to teach journalism courses at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He retired in 2005, and soon after, the university created the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and Media.