Charles Sumner "Chuck" Stone Jr., an outspoken former Philadelphia newspaper columnist so trusted that more than 70 criminal suspects surrendered to him first rather than to police, died Sunday in an assisted-living facility in North Carolina. He was 89.
The first black columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News, Mr. Stone was a writer and editor there for nearly two decades before leaving in 1991 to teach at the University of North Carolina. He retired from teaching in 2004.
Mr. Stone had a lifetime of service and accomplishment, serving as one of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, and working overseas for an international relief organization in 1956. He was special assistant to U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a major influence on his life.
A Facebook photograph posted Sunday by his nephew Gene Seymour shows Mr. Stone seated on a dais at a Harlem event in the early 1960s next to leading black figures of the time: Malcolm X, Ghana's president Kwame Nkrumah, and Powell.
As a journalist, Mr. Stone developed an ardent voice against inequality and injustice. His language was finely tuned and pungent. And he did not spare African American politicians. In one 1991 column, he called State Rep. Dwight Evans an "oleaginous eel," Mayor W. Wilson Goode a "paternalistic ferret," and U.S. Rep. William H. Gray III a "peacock."
He cut a distinguished, cheerful presence - his horn-rimmed glasses, crew cut, bow ties, and broad smile were his signature.
He had the trust and loyalty of a large following.
In 1977, suspects began calling on Mr. Stone to help them surrender to police, believing his presence offered a measure of protection from law enforcement officers who had a reputation for heavy-handedness against African Americans.
"People would turn themselves in to Chuck so they wouldn't get tuned up by the police," said novelist Pete Dexter, a former Daily News columnist who shared an office with Mr. Stone. "He was a singularly good human being."
In a Facebook tribute on Sunday, Richard Aregood, the newspaper's former editorial page editor, recalled that Mr. Stone's office was "the only Underground Railroad for criminal suspects a newspaper ever maintained."
In 1981, Mr. Stone helped negotiate the release of six Graterford Prison guards being held hostage by prisoners led by a convicted killer of a police officer.
"I damn near had a nervous breakdown," Mr. Stone later told an interviewer about the Graterford drama. "I spent two days negotiating, and they released the hostages after the second day. So then when people got in trouble and there were hostages . . . they said, 'Call Chuck Stone to get us out of this.' "
Mr. Stone was unrelenting, said his son, Charles Sumner Stone III. "My father used to say to me all the time, 'Kick ass and take names,' " he said.
Mr. Stone's work inspired many African American journalists, including Herbert Lowe, a former Inquirer reporter and now a journalism professor at Marquette University in Wisconsin. He read Mr. Stone's columns while growing up in Camden.
"He was writing about things that mattered to me as an African American male," Lowe said.
Inquirer editor William K. Marimow also recalled that part of Mr. Stone's influence.
"He really was, I thought, a passionate and ardent advocate for civil rights during his time in Philadelphia," Marimow said.
Mr. Stone was born in St. Louis and raised in Hartford, Conn. He studied political science and economics at Wesleyan College, where he graduated in 1948. He earned a master's degree in sociology from the University of Chicago. He also attended the University of Connecticut Law School for a year.
After working in India, Egypt, and Gaza for Care International, he joined the black-owned New York Age in 1958, first as a reporter and then as the weekly's editor. Mr. Stone later recalled getting flak for hiring a white reporter and a white columnist when no white-owned paper in town was hiring black writers.
After Mr. Stone became editor and White House correspondent for the Washington Afro-American in 1960, Newsweek magazine labeled him "the angry man of the Negro press."
He had a short stint as editor-in-chief at the Chicago Daily Defender but said he was fired for refusing to lighten his attacks on Mayor Richard Daley.
He was the author of several fiction and nonfiction books, and contributed to and edited other collections.
Mr. Stone also helped found the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and served as its first president.
"His leadership went a long way toward the organization moving forward," said Acel Moore, associate editor emeritus at The Inquirer and one of NABJ's cofounders.
In addition to his son, Mr. Stone is survived by children Krishna Stone and Allegra Stone; a grandchild, Parade Stone; and sisters Madalene Seymour and Irene Gordy. He was preceded in death by his parents, Madalene and Charles Stone, and his ex-wife of 49 years, Louise Davis Stone.
Donations may be made to the Chuck Stone Citizen of the World Fund at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication Foundation of North Carolina Inc., Carroll Hall 311, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27599.