Chauncey Bailey knew 14th Street well. For years, downtown Oakland was his professional home, first at the Tribune newspaper and later at the Oakland Post. He was a regular at City Hall, a few blocks away from those newsrooms in the heart of his hometown.
Bailey walked 14th Street on his commute from his Lake Merritt home to the Post newsroom. He took his final steps there, too. On the morning of Aug. 2, 2007, members of Your Black Muslim Bakery assassinated Bailey in an attempt to silence a story he was working on about the organization’s inner turmoil and financial troubles.
That street now bears Bailey’s name. In a tearful ceremony on Saturday, family, friends, and former newspaper colleagues returned to the intersection of 14th and Alice streets to unveil a plaque and street signs commemorating Bailey’s legacy.
Fourteenth Street from Broadway near City Hall to Lakeside Drive is now also known as “Chauncey Bailey Way.”
Post Publisher Paul Cobb, who hired Bailey, told the crowd on Saturday that Bailey was supposed to meet his editor in the newsroom that morning. Even 15 years later, Cobb can recall the wail of ambulance sirens.
“I looked up and I saw the ambulances,” Cobb said. “I was wondering, well it’s probably somebody that got injured or something. When I got in the office I got a call from the police, who said, did you know Chauncey Bailey? It really shook me in a big way. I looked out our window. I could see him lying on the ground. It was a surreal experience.”
An Oakland native, Bailey studied journalism at Merritt College and San Jose State University. His early career took him to the Detroit News, Hartford Courant, and United Press International. Bailey was a news junkie, who always had his ear to the ground and a radio blaring news broadcasts in the background.
One newspaperman recalled that Bailey, while working for the Detroit News, used to take the bus to work. Bailey noticed fellow riders sitting there with nothing to do, so he dropped a quarter in the newspaper stand, grabbed a stack, and handed the newspaper out to people. In the 1990s, he returned home to work at the Oakland Tribune. Bailey became a familiar face as an interviewer and commentator on Soul Beat Television, a local cable station.
He was known to ask the first question at press conferences and not shy away from controversy or asking tough questions. Even so, former Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who introduced a resolution to rename the street, said Bailey “had a way of making you feel like family, 15 minutes in.”
Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she would often talk to Bailey “about the ridiculousness of things that got covered up and needed to be told.”
“He was always ready to speak out when something didn’t make sense,” Kaplan said.
Former Oakland Tribune editor Martin Reynolds was an intern when he first met Bailey in 1995. “He knew everybody and yet he took the time to help me,” Reynolds (who is a member of the board of directors of Cityside Journalism Initiative, which runs The Oaklandside) recalled Saturday. “He gave me guidance.”
Bailey was a “go-to reporter and anchor for the coverage of the Black community, which for Oakland particularly at that time was synonymous with our community,” Reynolds said. “When Chauncey left the Oakland Tribune, the coverage he provided, the perspective that he offered, were never replaced. There was no replicating his contribution.”
For Bailey’s fellow journalists, the commemorative street signs stand as a symbol of an attack on a free press and the First Amendment and a reminder that you can’t kill a story by killing the messenger. After Bailey’s assassination, journalists from across several newsrooms and led by the Tribune formed “The Chauncey Bailey Project,” with the mission of finishing Bailey’s investigation into Your Black Muslim Bakery—and the added mission of investigating his killing.
“We needed to send a clear and direct message: you attack a journalist, you kill a journalist, it’s a zero-sum game,” said Thomas Peele, an investigative journalist who worked full-time on the project along with KCBS’ Bob Butler, independent journalist Mary Fricker, former Tribune reporter Josh Richman, and others.
A jury later convicted Yusef Bey IV, the son of the bakery’s founder, of ordering the hit on Bailey. The gunman, bakery handyman Devaughndre Broussard, and his getaway driver, Antoine Mackey, were convicted of carrying out the murder. They were also linked to other killings, kidnapping, and other crimes.
“Following the investigation into those who killed Chauncey, and I will not utter their names, books were written, awards were won, and people went to jail,” Reynolds said. “But the most tragic thing that happened was a son lost a father.”
Reynolds turned to Bailey’s son, Chauncey Steven Bailey Jr, sitting near his aunt, Lorelei Waqia, and uncle, Mark Cooley. Reynolds recalled how the elder Bailey would proudly bring his son into the Tribune newsroom: “You were the apple of his eye.”
The younger Bailey is now pursuing a career in media. Cobb told him to “be like your father and carry your camera.”
“You have inherited a tradition and a skillset that few black journalists and few journalists throughout the country have,” Cobb said. “And that is the nerve and the daring and the willingness to tell the truth and go at it and ask the hard questions. Do not be afraid to ask them. We got your back. You are forever a Post correspondent.”