Chauncey Bailey Project

Commentary: In Detroit, some note absences at Bailey service


 Detroit says good-bye to Chauncey Bailey.


“In a moving tribute in one of the many cities Chauncey Bailey Jr. called home, Detroit said goodbye Thursday evening to the firebrand journalist who made his mark here as a hard-charging reporter and columnist during his 12 years at The Detroit News,” Cindy Rodriguez wrote Friday in the News.

But on the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists on Friday, the talk was about who was not present at the Detroit memorial service. Bailey worked at the Detroit News, the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune and the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, all mainstream newspapers, and his last job was as editor of the Post Newspaper Group, a black-owned company in the San Francisco Bay area that includes the Oakland Post.

“I just returned from the memorial service for Chauncey Bailey here in Detroit,” wrote Randye Bullock, a communications specialist and former president of NABJ’s Detroit chapter, as well as a former national board member.

“I was only one of nearly 55 people to show up. Where were representatives of Detroit’s black press? Where were the current Detroit Chapter NABJ officers? Where were the young journalists [for whom] Chauncey helped to pave [the] way? People can’t say they didn’t know about it . . . it was in both of our major papers. Don’t our young people know that he was killed for doing his job? So what if they didn’t know him. He was a good journalist, he was a black journalist who loved what he did. His life was ended too early. Have they become so calloused, so desensitized not to care?”

Some attributed the low attendance to Bailey’s membership in the black press. Others discounted that theory.

Elizabeth  Atkins, a novelist and former president of the Detroit NABJ chapter, gave Journal-isms this account of the service for Bailey, who was slain Aug. 2 in Oakland as he went to work:

“Friends, family and former colleagues attended the memorial service at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit. It was organized by Chauncey Bailey’s former wife, Robin.

Bob Berg, who was press secretary for the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, recalled a time when Chauncey questioned the mayor as they entered an elevator at the airport.

“Mayor Young deflected the question by saying: ‘I don’t like black reporters who come out to do a hatchet job on me.’

“Chauncey responded: ‘You don’t like black reporters who ask tough questions.’

“Tension mounted to the point, Berg said, that the mayor’s security chief actually pulled the mayor back. The elevator doors closed, with Chauncey on the outside, the mayor on the inside. Later, however, Chauncey wrote a touching column about a friendly encounter that he and his young niece shared with the mayor during a chance meeting at a store.

“‘Chauncey was either catching hell or giving hell,’ said former Detroit News editor Luther Keith, who was Chauncey’s editor. ‘Chauncey was not trying to get everybody to like him. He cared about, “What’s the story?” He didn’t go along to get along.’

“U.S. Congressman John Conyers said: ‘Chauncey Bailey was dynamic and unrelenting. He was a terror to those that could not speak truth. He was one of the few members of the press who was a progressive advocate for truth and justice.’

“Speakers also referenced the state of contemporary journalism, and said Chauncey Bailey’s death was a chilling tragedy for all journalists.

“‘His death was an attack on what America stands for — freedom of expression,” said Keith. ‘Chauncey paid the ultimate price.’

Joe Madison, host on WOL radio in Washington, D.C., and former head of the Detroit NAACP chapter, flew in for the funeral. He shared his vision of an imaginary press conference in heaven, where Chauncey would be stirring things up.

“Former WXYZ-TV (ABC) news anchor Bill Bonds delivered a moving speech about an imaginary conversation with Chauncey in which they discussed the news media’s fixation on celebrities. He questioned why we know more about Lindsay Lohan, Michael Vick and his dogs and Anna Nicole Smith than we know about the U.S. attorney general, George Bush’s agenda and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Chauncey Bailey, he said, ‘was a gift . . . his gift was real heart.'” Berg estimated attendance at 150.

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