'Stone perspective' went beyond skin color

Stone: former DN columnist
Stone: former DN columnist
Posted: April 11, 2014

JOHN MORRISON'S lengthy obituary on Chuck Stone in Monday's Daily News said a lot, but there was one thing it did not say.

It did not say Chuck Stone was the first black columnist at the Daily News.

It didn't have to because he was so much more.

Many readers' tributes to Chucker (that's what I usually called him) mentioned his hilarious and infuriating "And the Angels Sing" columns, "written" by letter writers and answered by Chucker.

In those, the voices of bigotry, racial hatred and assorted animosities flowered, with Chucker in the role of Chance the Gardener - except Chucker would do more than watch. He retaliated, sometimes with a scalpel, sometimes with a blunderbuss, but always with laughter on his lips.

Here at the News, Chucker also had the title of senior editor, which meant he sat in on editorial board meetings (when the spirit moved him, which was "rarely," then-editorial page editor Rich Aregood remembers). Some thought he was there to give the "black perspective," something valuable for a newspaper calling itself the People Paper. He actually provided the " Stone perspective."

Dave Lawrence, the managing editor who hired him (and me) in 1972, tells me he wanted Stone for black perspective, but "he had a perspective that encompassed so many other things." He was hired for "his heart and mind and soul and talent," Lawrence says.

I don't think Chucker saw himself as the "first black" columnist, but a columnist who was black. He was the walking, talking, Shakespeare-spouting, Brooks Brothers-wearing antidote to every negative stereotype about black people.

Our current newsroom employs many people of color - blacks, Asians, Hispanics and whites (people of no color?). We have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists.

They don't define themselves by subcategories, nor did Chucker. I like to hope we are past those kinds of stratifications (even though I know not all of us are).

There are still haters, even if they have been forced by decency to slither under rocks. The number of dead-enders dwindle as more Americans have more contact with more people of other races, heritages, backgrounds and beliefs. Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. It often breeds simpatico.

That might sound Pollyannaish, but Chucker was always hopeful about the future.

Some readers wrongly saw him as an apologist for black people. When not attacking white-inflicted injustice he was skewering black politicians who didn't live up to his standards, or black people who didn't make the most of their God-given talents.

There was Chucker's obsessive disdain for the "peacock," the Rev. (and U.S. Rep.) Bill Gray, whom Chucker thought was feathering his own nest. Mayor W. Wilson Goode was a "paternalistic ferret" and state Rep. Dwight Evans was an "oleaginous eel." Think of the fun the iconoclastic Chucker could have had with John Street, Ed Rendell and Michael Nutter.

Chucker often got on the case of African-Americans who were "dancing their lives away." He steamed that they were down with the latest groove but unwilling to crack a book.

An honors college graduate, a master of English to the point of driving copy editors to their dictionaries, Chucker was fiercely dedicated to education. It was no surprise that became the final chapter of his career.

After teaching part time at the University of Delaware, Chucker got an offer he couldn't refuse from the University of North Carolina.

North Carolina, once a slave state, now beckoned Professor Charles Sumner Stone Jr. with open arms.

That illustrates, he would no doubt say, why he was hopeful about the future.

But he would also add it's not time to unfurl the "mission accomplished" banner. The war's not won yet.

Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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