Val Lauder, who taught feature writing for 31 years at the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, remembers former UNC journalism professor Charles Sumner “Chuck” Stone Jr. Stone died yesterday (April 6) at the age of 89.
Chuck Stone’s passing is a loss to so many – to his family and loved ones, those who knew him as one of the leaders of his generation, those who simply encountered him along the way … in an airport waiting room, at a conference of the National Association of Black Journalists, which he founded, not to mention the students at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was the Walter Spearman Professor for almost 20 years. And the faculty and staff there.
It’s truly a loss. Our loss. But … all those stories to remember.
The ones about him, and the ones he told.
I was fortunate to hear many of his stories because he often came to my Feature Writing class so the students could interview him for their Interview Feature.
The story about the column he wrote when, after a huge snowstorm, the New York mayor did not plow the areas of the city where blacks lived, and Chuck said the city only plowed “white snow.”
The story about how he was caught out on his story on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech because Chuck filed the one that King gave him the night before, the one that he had planned to give.
The story about meeting in a hotel room in Chicago with Malcolm X two weeks before he was assassinated … and Malcolm’s awareness of impending death.
The great and near-great, the leaders of his generation, an era, threaded through Chuck’s stories, a personal, informal, history of his time. From a childhood in Hartford, Conn., service in the Air Force in World War II, to struggling reporter – with frequent references to his mother, who thought, as mothers do, that he was the best ever, one day having to point out that he did not work for The New York Times, and might never do so.
My favorite story, though –
It seems Martin Luther King Jr. called Chuck one day and asked him to become – if I heard him correctly – the Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I don’t know if Chuck said exactly when this was, or why, but my guess would be 1965, 1966, or thereabouts, apparently as King felt he was trying to do too much.
Chuck was flattered, and they talked. And King said, “Then you’ll come down?”
“To Atlanta?!” Chuck said.
“Yes, of course,” King said.
“But that’s in the South,” Chuck said.
To which King said, “Chuck … the South is changing.”
And Chuck said, “Then why are you still marching?”
As memorable as Chuck’s stories were, his place in the history of his time – otherwise peopled with the likes of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, John Glenn, the moment that engraves Chuck’s place in this history is the one I witnessed on Martin Luther King Day some years ago when I was president of The Chapel Hill Historical Society.
Chuck had accepted my invitation to speak on Martin Luther King Day and, rather than the usual public event, we’d invited children from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools. We’d also given each of the grade school students a copy of the book published by the Historical Society of the poems of George Moses Horton, a boy, a slave, who in the antebellum years would come into Chapel Hill and write poems for the students at the University, for them to use in wooing their loves. After the war, he continued to write, poems published in this book.
As I stood a little to the side and behind Chuck at the lectern, a boy, so small he could barely reach over the lectern to offer his book for an autograph, stood on tiptoe. And, as Chuck reached for the book and signed it, the light, glow, awe in that little boy’s eyes enshrined Chuck Stone in my memory.
That little boy was in the presence … mere inches from a man who had known Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement – a man who had talked to them, had lunch with them, a Coke (or something stronger) with them.
It was all there in that little boy’s eyes.
And even better than the stories.
Published April 7, 2014.