Chauncey Bailey Project

Commentary: Bailey was a champion, not a cheerleader

Brenda Payton
Brenda Payton

Brenda Payton

By Brenda Payton, Chauncey Bailey Project

EVERY COUPLE of years, Chauncey Bailey would remind me of a party I had during the first regional meeting of the newly formed Bay Area Black Journalists Association. It was probably in 1980. Maybe 1981.

My little house was packed. Seems like you could crowd more people into a space when you were young. We’d rolled up the living room rug and the dance floor stayed crowded. You had to go downstairs to cool off.

We were kids. Of course, we didn’t think so at the time. At our jobs we were serious, focused journalists, a new wave of black faces in newsrooms. Most of us went into the profession because we wanted to see more stories about people who looked like us and our communities. It was often more than a notion to convince white editors those stories were newsworthy.

So at that party, at the end of a conference that had addressed the weighty issues of the day and our challenges in mostly white newsrooms, we were happy to let our hair down, so to speak, and get down.

Whenever Chauncey (it seems too strange to refer to him as Bailey) mentioned the party, we both laughed. We were remembering the party, yes, but more broadly, our youth and all of its unrealistic hope and uncompromising principle.

Sometime after that, Chauncey moved to Detroit to work for the Detroit Free Press. I heard through the grapevine, the black journalists’ grapevine is very active, he had some major disagreements with editors there. That wouldn’t be surprising. Most black journalists would have stories about butting heads with editors who maintained a narrow definition of news that excluded people of color, unless they were being arrested.

When Chauncey returned to the Bay Area, he seemed changed. He had more of an edge. He was angrier. I never asked him about Detroit. He came to the Oakland Tribune, where we worked together for 12 years.

In many ways, he was an old-style black journalist. He regularly attended events in the black community. He wrote about entrepreneurs, people starting self-help programs, community organizations, individuals and institutions we would otherwise not have known about. He was the herald of and champion of the African-American community. That didn’t mean he didn’t report wrongdoing or go after scoundrels. He was a champion, not a cheerleader.

He was very proud and most often wore a suit to work; most journalists are far less businesslike in their attire. He was also very smart and liked to present data and facts to back up his point in a discussion or presentation.

He always had at least three jobs or professional projects going at a time. While he was working at the Tribune, he freelanced for black newspapers and worked at SoulBeat, the cable television station. His resume was varied and impressive. His career encompassed radio, newspapers and television.

He was a newsman. The only thing that competed with news for his attention was his son. He loved his boy. If you wanted to get a smile out of Chauncey, you just had to ask about his son. He’d bring his son into the newsroom. He’d take him with him everywhere he could. It broke his heart when the boy’s mother moved him to Southern California.

In many ways, Chauncey typified the challenges and struggles of many African-American men. A smart, talented man who chafed at the routine indignities of a white establishment, in this case the media. A loving father denied close contact with his son. And ultimately, unbelievably, a homicide victim, gunned down on the streets of Oakland.

I’m writing this in shock. I still can’t believe what the news reports are saying. I’m still thinking I’ll run into him downtown, wearing a suit, on his way to cover this event or that meeting, reporting the news of the black community.

Columnist Brenda Payton can be reached at

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