By Tyree Johnson
I can’t ever remember hearing that word before I met Charles Sumner Stone.
It was sometime in early 1975, when the new regime from Knight Publishers took over the Philadelphia Daily News hired this guy who wore suspenders, had a boxy hair style and a disarming smile flashing between a set of jolly jowls.
“Hey, young brother,” he greeted me as he praised me for a black History series about the city’s black community that I wrote as a rookie reporter.
He said it was a fine piece of work, but looking back, Chuck Stone was just being kind. More importantly, he was being encouraging.
However, it was later that year he would take me aside and use that word that would later take hold in my professional life.
He told me that both he and I were in a unique position at a newspaper to inform people of what is going on in their lives, their government, their world.
Use that pen to be bold, he told me. Use it to be fearless. If we don’t do any of those things, we are just wasting time – and that would be a sin.
Chuck Stone, who died last Monday just short of his 90th birthday, led a life that was never a waste of time.
I’m not going to detail all his accomplishments here as a journalist, a teacher, a father and friend. And, you’ll have to read elsewhere the jobs he held in journalism, his association with the late Congressman Adam Clayton Powell and the books he authored.
I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about the columns he wrote that made the powerful uncomfortable and comforted the powerless. That’s the role of an audacious journalist.
Let me tell you about Chuck Stone, the man I knew and whose friendship I cherish.
With Chuck Stone, you were either a good friend or a low-down, Yankee liar. There was no relationship in-between.
Well, not really. Out there was an adoring public who idolized this man and his pen.
We once attended a community meeting in South Philly that had a gripe about coverage of their neighborhood by the Daily News. I arrived first and explained the role of a journalist and a newspaper. I was met with hostile indifference.
Chuck came in a few minutes later and said the exact things I said – even the old tale of how the Greeks use to kill a messenger who bought bad news.
The crowd loved him. I thought they were ready to kiss his ring.
But on the other hand, you can be a good friend, who played cards with him every weekend or become a business partner, only later to become the worse two-legged animal living outside the zoo. And, he would write about you.
He was a relentless critic (for good reasons) of then Congressman Bill Gray, his one-time card-playing partner. He was a thorn in the administrations of both Frank Rizzo and W. Wilson Goode. He felt one was racially divisive and both were inept. He went after black and white leaders and wannabes who he felt were doing something wrong.
And, I remember warning the late Muhammad Kenyatta, who was upset with a column Stone wrote that the media was “tar bushing” the Black Muslims’ ties to the Black Mafia, not to send a letter harshly criticizing his opinion.
He sent it anyway. After that, Stone referred to Kenyatta as that “lying Baptist preacher.”
Yet, when I walked into his office to discuss that opinion piece with him, he offered to open his column to me. I went on to tell about my visit to the mosque and where I was seated “by the Black Mafia’s number 2 drug pusher... and escorted out the door by the Black Mafia’s number 3 drug dealer.” Yes, I wrote, at that time, the Black Mafia and the Muslim’s Fruit of Islam (security force) were one and the same.
He thought I was being “audacious.”
Stone gave me a fine, praising introduction in that column that not only gave me my 15 minutes of fame, but 15 years of credibility.
Our friendship continued outside the newsroom. We went fishing several times, me with my son, Pete; him with his son, Chuckie. Although there were times we caught only a few blue gills, I enjoyed riding in his blue Ford Mustang convertible with the top down whizzing down a highway feeling the summer air gently warming my face.
It was Stone’s organizing talents that really impressed me. He was able to walk gently not to fracture the thin egos of a number of journalists as he and others formed the first chapter of the Association of Black Journalists.
All other attempts to create just a gathering had failed miserably before Stone came to Philadelphia. But, Chuck Stone and Claude Lewis, made it work.
He went on to found the national chapter of the ABJ and was its president for two years. Yet, he faced a revolt by a number of journalists who didn’t want him to serve a third one-year-term that allow him to complete some goals he felt the organization needed.
I could tell he was hurt, but he gently stepped aside.
Today, the local and national ABJ continues to thrive. The national has a membership of 3,000 people working in some form of the media.
When I left the Daily News for the second time in 1989, it was Chuck who urged my colleagues to help me get a good start by “giving him some money.” Chuck gave me $200. My colleagues matched him with a full-page ad. Even the company chipped in another $200 for a full page ad. I was overwhelmed.
One of the questions I ask when a person transitions to another life, is did he/she leave this world a better place?
With Charles Sumner Stone, the answer is easy. What he left behind will continue to do good long after he and I are gone.
That’s because Charles Sumner Stone, Jr., was AUDACIOUS.
Life was going swell for a retired senior citizen Clyde Martin up until a month ago when a small hole appeared on the street in front of his home began to grow and grow and grow.
Soon, that little hole morphed into a massive sink hole and a whole lot of aggravation creating a cold house and a at first huge gas bill of $4,700.
“ I don’t think it’s fair that I got a (gas) bill for $4,700.00 to fix a problem I didn’t make,” said Mr. Martin 86, about the nearly 2-feet deep sink hole that has swallowed about a quarter of the one-way 6200 block of Race Street.
“This has been going on for over a month and I still don’t have heat,” said Martin during a Wednesday afternoon interview conducted while gas crews were working on installing new gas lines destroyed by the sinking dirt.
“They (PGW) came out to light the pilots,” Martin added, “but I still don’t have heat. They told me to get the parts and labor plan.”
Oh, no, responded PGW’s Director of Corporate Communications, Barry O’Sullivan, “No resident is financially responsible to pay for damage from a sink hole. The parts and labor plan is an optional service we provide to residents, it is not mandatory.”
O’Sullivan said the sink hole developed because “There was water damage around the pipes.”
In the beginning, PGW officials ordered some residents out of their homes for several days as a safety precaution until the ruptured gas lines could be repaired.
A disgusted woman who only identified herself as Ms. Davis firmly stated, “I hope we don’t have any more problems around here,” said a disgusted Race Street neighbor named Ms. Davis. “I had to go to my granddaughter’s house because I didn’t have any heat or hot water.”
Ms. Davis recalled seeing a small hole with water coming out before the problem became dangerously out of control. “I think the water department dug a small hole and it got bigger and bigger,” she added in bewilderment.
As of press time a representative from the Philadelphia Water Department could not be reached for comment.
The hole is still open and O’Sullivan reassured that the problem is quickly being resolved, but stated he was not sure if any other utility company will need to complete work inside the sink whole.
Martin says he is waiting for the sink hole disaster to be over with and all of his services working perfectly.
“Well,” he said, “they gave me a case of bottle water.... (but) a case of water don’t last long,” Martin said with a light chuckle.