Back when Chuck Stone was a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News (from 1972 to 1991), it wouldn’t have been advertising hype to say that he was the most trusted man in the City of Brotherly Love.
People put their faith in Stone, who died on April 6 at age 89 in Farmington, N.C. It wasn’t just his street-smart knowledge of the city and the elegant old-school prose decorated with 0bscure words. They believed in his essential goodness, in the World War II Tuskegee Airman’s ability to calmly navigate a dangerous situation. They believed in him so much, in fact, that during his career more than 75 wanted criminals surrendered themselves to Stone rather than to the police.
Stone’s finest moment might have been in 1981, when he defused a hostage crisis inside Graterford Prison, where seven armed convicts at the maximum-security facility — led by a convicted triple murderer, Jo Jo Bowen — had taken 36 people captive after a failed escape attempt. At the request of then-Pennsylvania Gov. Richard Thornburgh, Stone went into the prison and negotiated with the hostage-takers through a doorway (which he later learned that the prisoners had electrified, so that anyone who crossed the threshold would have been killed). He eventually was able to persuade Bowen to release the hostages and surrender, in exchange for a few concessions, such as being able to serve the remainder of their sentences in a federal prison.
As former Philadelphia police negotiator Michael Chitwood told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1983, when Stone went into the prison, he “saved lives.”
In 1985, Stone defused another delicate situation, persuading James Knight to surrender after he had shot his estranged wife’s new lover and taken four of his in-laws hostage in their home. Stone reportedly calmed the man by appealing to him as a father, and telling him with pride about his own daughter, who, as coincidence would have it, was graduating that day from the University of Pennsylvania. Stone missed the ceremony, but he got the man to surrender peacefully, according to a Daily News article on his career.
Some other facts about Stone:
- In 1943, the year after Stone graduated from high school, he began flight training as a navigator in first-ever unit of black U.S. Army aviators, based in Tuskegee, Ala. He was often sent up to fly with the student pilots who were having the most difficulty, an experience he recalled as harrowing.
- Stone chose journalism as a career even though he had studied political science and economics at Wesleyan College and earned a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Chicago.
- In the mid-1960s, after working as an editor and White House correspondent for two African-American newspapers, Stone took a break from journalism to work as an administrative assistant to U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.).
- In his 19 years at the Daily News, Stone wrote approximately 4,000 columns.
- He was a fierce critic of Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, whom he castigated as an “unlettered dolt” and blamed for exacerbating racial tensions, and was equally tough on the city’s first African-American mayor, Wilson Goode, whom he once compared to Richard Nixon and accused of “lying through his teeth.”
- He was the first president of the National Association of Black Journalists, an organization that he helped to found.
- After leaving the Daily News in 1991, Stone taught journalism at the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina.
Here’s Andrea Mitchell’s tribute to Stone on MSNBC:
Photo: Jason Miccolo Johnson, courtesy of National Association of Black Journalists
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