Journalist killed for his reporting found his life’s work through reading

Credit: Thomas Peele / EdSource

In March, Oakland renamed the part of 14th Street where Chauncey Bailey was murdered.

The Hayward Daily Review subscriber used a racial slur to complain about the black child delivering his newspaper. The circulation manager told the man that if he wanted to continue receiving the newspaper, he had to get used to his new medium.

Later, the manager brushed off the tall, skinny paperboy and told him that the caller didn’t like him or anyone like him. He told her the vile word the man used. It was in the early 1960s and no one was still substituting “the n-word” for it.

The paperboy, who went by the name Chauncey Bailey, said nothing, his younger half-brother, Mark Cooley, who witnessed the scene, told me in 2010. But as they drove home , Bailey told Cooley that if the subscriber “don’t like a little (n-word) delivering his paper, wait for us to write for him.

Credit: Chauncey Bailey Project

Chauncey Bailey

Bailey was 12 or 13 years old. He had found his life’s path: journalism. He would literally stay there until his last step. On August 2, 2007, while on his way to work as editor of the Oakland Post, a masked assassin lunged at Bailey and shot him three times at close range with a shotgun. Bailey was 58 years old. The killer later admitted that the leader of a black-Muslim cult to which he belonged ordered the hit after learning that Bailey was working on a story about him.

Within days, reporters in Northern California formed the Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaborative effort to complete Bailey’s work. We modeled it on a similar effort in 1976 after an Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles died in a car bomb attack. Reporters from across the country flocked to Phoenix to send a simple message: you can’t kill a story by killing a reporter.

We carried the same banner in Oakland. I worked as the Bailey Project’s senior investigative reporter for four years, through the trial and sentencing of his killers, and wrote a book about the case, “Killing the Messenger”.

Last month, Oakland renamed the portion of 14and Street, ironically the location of EdSource’s office, where Bailey walked that fateful morning, Chauncey Bailey Way in his honor after years of pressure from family and reporters. In a tearful yet joyous ceremony, much was said about the First Amendment, Bailey’s heinous murder and his lifelong commitment to public service.

Credit: Thomas Peele / EdSource

In March, Oakland renamed the part of 14th Street where Chauncey Bailey was murdered.

Bailey’s story, however, is that of a young black man who trained for a place of prominence in his profession and then used that profession to educate and inform others.

It all started at Hayward High School Library in South Alameda County. Bailey had a bad childhood stutter and the library soon became his place of solace, a place where he lost himself in books and developed an obsession with reading. In 2011, a mural with two images of Bailey was painted on the exterior wall of the library by then-student Jamil Holmes, where it remains.

As he read and lived simply as a black teenager, Bailey became acutely aware of the struggles of his people. Her parents had bought a house in Hayward that was not subject to covenants that kept California neighborhoods separate in the 1950s. But soon after they moved in, racists burned a cross on their lawn. Bailey and her siblings weren’t allowed to play outside when their parents weren’t home.

Television brought him images of the carnage of the civil rights struggle in the South, water cannons and German shepherds from Bull Connor, walkers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, dead little girls in a Birmingham church .

What Bailey could bring to the fight were words. He enrolled at Merritt College in Oakland after graduating from high school in 1966. This was five years after Merritt Community College students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panthers. Bailey nearly joined the Panthers himself, but instead transferred to the San Jose State journalism program. He graduated in 1972.

The Black Power movement still appealed to Bailey. He almost became a reporter for the Panthers newspaper. But one of his teachers urged him to think bigger. Go and join a big-city newspaper, the professor suggested.

If Bailey wanted to take on the professor’s challenge, he’d have to prove himself in a smaller publication first. He landed a job as a reporter for the Sun Reporter, the San Francisco black weekly. There, in the late 60s and early 70s, Bailey cut his teeth.

From there he enrolled in a Columbia University summer program for minority journalists. He stand out and was hired at the Hartford Courant (cq), then a feeder newspaper for the major metropolitan dailies where he aspired to work.

Hartford couldn’t hold off Bailey for long. But Detroit could. Hired by the Detroit News to cover City Hall and African-American affairs, he achieved what he dreamed of in his youth. No longer bothered by a stutter, he became known as a relentless and prodigious reporter. He saw stories everywhere, especially those about black entrepreneurs, teachers and students.

Literacy meant a lot to Bailey. His ex-wife, Robin Hardin, told me their apartment was full of magazines and books. Bailey often traveled to Detroit by bus. Hardin said it distressed him to see people sitting in their seats, not reading anything. He knew that only by being informed could black people overcome poverty and systemic racism.

So he started dropping a quarter in newspaper boxes at bus stops and grabbing a stack of papers. He then walked across the bus handing them out to passengers. “Here, keep a diary,” he would say. “Here, read the newspaper.” The words, Hardin said, “meant so much to Chauncey.”

Hardin had two young nieces who came to live with the couple. When the children were in elementary school, Bailey went to their principal and offered to start a school newspaper. He told Hardin that children who didn’t like to read, or who had nothing to read at home, at least read stories written by their friends. He enforced deadlines, arranged paper and printed copies. The publication met with great success.

Eventually, Bailey grew weary of the long Detroit winters and yearned for the California sun. He moved to the Oakland Tribune in 1993, where he continued to write several stories a day on all aspects of black life.

He frequently wrote about a business called Your Black Muslim Bakery run by a former hairdresser named Joseph Stephens who had reinvented himself as a religious prophet, calling himself Dr Yusef Bey. Outwardly, Bey promoted black self-determination through the business. Internally, his organization was a cult and a criminal organization. He fathered over 40 children, some with daughters as young as 13. Children were kept out of school, forced to work and attend classes where they were taught that whites and Jews were demons, that blacks were superior beings and would soon conquer the earth in an Armageddon-like war started by a giant spaceship called “the mother plane” which circled the planet.

Bey even ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Oakland in 1994, a race covered by Bailey. He died in 2004 while facing multiple child rape charges. Bailey covered the legal proceedings, which led to clashes with Bey’s supporters, who saw Bey as divine and religiously justified in impregnating children.

Bey’s son, Yusef Bey IV (Bey named five sons after himself) eventually took over the bakery.

Bailey was fired by the Tribune in 2007 for multiple ethical lapses. He threatened to write negative stories about the state Department of Motor Vehicles after he refused to intervene in a dispute between Bailey and a man who bought him a car. He also wrote a story about a woman-owned business he was dating without consulting editors first.

He was soon named editor of the Oakland Post, the city’s black weekly. He had been at the post For just a few weeks when he started working on a story about Yusuf Bey IV leading the bakery into bankruptcy. A source for this story came to the newspaper to see Bailey. A woman who worked there had once also worked for the beys. She made a call and word got back to Bey IV, who thought he could kill the story by killing the reporter.

Instead, ultimately found guilty of ordering the hit on Bailey and ordering his followers to kill two other men unrelated to Bailey’s murder, he put himself in prison for life without the possibility of release. conditional.

But it also robbed the world of light that was Chauncey Bailey, the reporter who showed up at school events, school board meetings, who understood the importance of high school, community college and university libraries. of State because he himself had navigated in these places. The reporter who started an elementary school newspaper. The kid who, when insulted by a racist, made a plan and found his way in life.

Fifteen years later, hardly anyone knows Bey’s name.

In Oakland, you can now see Bailey’s on street signs.

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