Charles Sumner “Chuck” Stone Jr., a pioneering black journalist and an influential journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died Sunday at 89.
Stone was remembered by his colleagues as a gifted teacher who shared insights with students based on his extensive career as a journalist, government official and civil rights activist. During his 14-year career at UNC, Stone became known around campus for his stylish attire, his morning commute on a bicycle and his popular class on censorship that he called “dirty books and dirty pictures,” one that always had a waiting list.
“There was just one Chuck Stone. There’s no doubt about that,” said Richard Cole, a former dean of the UNC journalism school who hired Stone. “In the classroom, he was inspiring. He brought students a side of culture that they didn’t know about.”
Stone was born July 21, 1924 in St. Louis and raised in Hartford, Conn. During World War II, he trained as a navigator at the segregated U.S. Air Corps flight school in Tuskegee, Ala. Stone later graduated from Wesleyan University in 1948 and earned a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1951.
Stone worked as a reporter and editor at several influential black newspapers at the height of the civil rights era, including The New York Age and The Chicago Defender. From 1960-63, Stone was editor and White House correspondent for The Washington Afro-American. During that period, he met Philip Meyer, now an emeritus professor at UNC but then a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers. Meyer recalled that the he and Stone met when they both moved into a northwest Washington, D.C., neighborhood as part of efforts to integrate it.
Three decades later, Meyer would recruit Stone to Chapel Hill to teach journalism. On Sunday, Meyer recalled his friend’s sense of humor, intellect and his ability to diffuse tension situations. “He was very smart. He could take a long-range view of events,” Meyer said. “He was a great diplomat.”
Stone’s skill for diplomacy helped him as a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. In 1972, Stone was hired as the paper’s first black columnist and reported extensively about police brutality and the criminal justice system. During this time, more than 75 criminal suspects asked Stone to escort them into police custody to avoid becoming victims of police brutality.
In 1981, Stone was asked to help negotiate a deal between law enforcement officials and a half dozen prisoners who had taken 38 inmates and employees hostage at a Pennsylvania state prison.
Four years later, Stone began teaching journalism at the University of Delaware and then went to UNC in 1991, where he taught for 14 years.
UNC journalism professor Jan Yopp recalled Stone from their years working together directing the Rainbow Institute, which brought together a multicultural group of rising high school seniors to campus for three weeks each summer to learn about journalism.
“The program fit Chuck’s passion and commitment to collect in one place young people of varying ethnicities, backgrounds and life experiences,” Yopp wrote in an email. “In the program and in his teaching and advising, he led by example and accepted and welcomed all who walked through his office or classroom door — students, faculty, staff, prospective students, anyone.”
Based on his journalism and teaching career, Stone received six honorary doctorate degrees and numerous honors, including UNC’s Thomas Jefferson Award, the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Free Spirit Award from the Freedom Forum and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Journalists. Stone had helped found NABJ in 1975 and served as its first president.
Beyond teaching and writing newspaper columns, Stone also wrote a number of books. Those included “Black Political Power in America,” a college textbook in 1968; a novel called “King Strut” in 1970 based on a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., for whom Stone worked as a special assistant; and a children’s book, “Squizzy, The Black Squirrel” in 2003.
Stone is survived by his children, Krishna Stone, Allegra Stone and Charles St. Stone III; grandchild, Parade Stone; and sisters, Madalene Seymour and Irene Gordy.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations can be made to the Chuck Stone Citizen of the World Fund at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication Foundation of North Carolina.