Nephew remembers a man in motion

PHOTO COURTESY OF GENE SEYMOUR Among Chuck Stone's intersections with history and those who made it was this event in Harlem, where he sat alongside Malcolm X.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GENE SEYMOUR Among Chuck Stone's intersections with history and those who made it was this event in Harlem, where he sat alongside Malcolm X.
Posted: April 08, 2014

IN MY MIND'S EYE, I will forever see my uncle, first and foremost, as a man in motion. Sometimes he is dancing to swing or bop. (In case any of you didn't know, he was pretty good at it.) Once in a while, he's jogging or skipping either to fill time or to make it go away.

Mostly, he's striding forward, always forward, leaning into the wind, resisting any real or imagined restraints, always in haste, never dawdling, whether he had someplace to go or not.

To slow down was to hold back - and, as far as my uncle was concerned, nothing was ever accomplished, no meaning ever given, nobody ever set free, by slowing down or holding back.

The whole point of living, as far as Chuck Stone was concerned, was to keep moving. Don't stop for too long to gaze at your surroundings. Don't think too much - or at least don't overthink things to the point where you lose sight of the horizon. And as for looking back - well, only if you absolutely needed to do so to keep going.

Talk amongst yourselves all you want about Chuck Stone's accomplishments - and they were considerable. Talk about his columns, their often-rococo rhetorical flourishes, his frequent intersections with history and those who made it. He was, in print and in person, a man of flamboyant style, one of the very first African-American journalists to have achieved any distinctive style.

But style alone wasn't an end for him, nor were the words, ALthough he cared deeply about their proper deployment, no matter how many syllables they had. Writing was a tool; whenever necessary a weapon to be aimed and fired to produce the desired effect, whether it was to wake people up or make them laugh, to illuminate what was deeply hidden or unjustly neglected.

The moment, the timing and, above all, the purpose were all that mattered. Then it was time to keep moving. Jo Jones, the drummer for all those Count Basie bands Chuck Stone loved, would have understood the Chuck Stone way of being: Drive the world forward, keep perfect time and don't let up unless it's to change direction - and then drive harder.

Chuck wasn't, by nature, a contemplative man. But he was observant. As with all great newspapermen and women, he shared with a wide-angle camera lens the ability to take in as complete a field of vision (or an assessment of a situation) with one quick snap and reproduce what he saw with all the visible details, even those you couldn't easily see.

Nothing mattered more to Chuck than putting his quicksilver vision to direct use, sometimes to praise, just as often to condemn, always to make history pick up the pace - and move along as quickly as he could.

Just because he had to stop doesn't mean the rest of us should.


Gene Seymour, a former film and jazz critic for Newsday, was a staff writer at the Daily News from 1981 to 1989. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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