Chuck Stone, RIP

Daily News columnist blazed trails, and maybe saved lives.

Chuck Stone, the first African American columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, has died at age 89.

AP reports:

After serving as a Tuskegee Airman in World War II, Stone was a writer and editor at influential black publications in New York, Washington and Chicago through the early 1960s, using his writing to urge the Kennedy administration to advance the cause of civil rights. Subsequently, he served as an adviser to U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell of New York.

His reputation grew after he was hired as the first black columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, where he worked as a columnist and editor from 1972 to 1991. He was known for being outspoken on discrimination, police brutality and racism.

Despite the grave subject matter he tackled, he was a joy to be around in the newsroom, said novelist Pete Dexter, who worked alongside Stone as a columnist at the Daily News.

“He was one of those people who makes you feel good just to bump into him when you came into the office because he was so happy where he was and doing what he did,” Dexter said.

The Daily News remembers:

USED TO BE that when Philly criminals heard that police were looking for them, they went looking for Chuck Stone.

They’d find him in the ivory tower at Broad and Callowhill – a trustworthy Daily News scribe who would facilitate their surrender to a Police Department they felt they couldn’t trust.

Stone, who died yesterday in North Carolina, handled about 75 surrenders between 1977 and 1991 and resolved at least five hostage situations.

Elmer Smith, Stone’s successor as columnist, offers an appraisal:

He was fully formed when he came to the Daily News in 1972. The Daily News, to its credit, knew what it was getting and gave him free rein. Frank Rizzo was a favorite target. But like a surrounded battalion, he could fire in any direction and hit the enemy. He skewered as many blacks as whites.

His bad side was a dark place. You didn’t want to be there. His column often was a weapon of war, perhaps too often. He could be a bully, and there were times when even a reverent acolyte like me questioned his fairness.

But I could never question his commitment to the people of this city, especially those he viewed as victims of the corruption and incompetence that too often characterize its political leadership to this day.