Terence Moore: The New South is often new in name only

"I’ve lived in Atlanta since 1985, and the 'City Too Busy to Hate' has a bridge on I-75 named after Lester Maddox."

Terence Moore
Terence Moore

Photograph by Stephanie Eley

This essay is part of a series—we asked 17 Atlantans to tell us how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has impacted their lives in honor of its 60th anniversary. Read all of the essays here.

I grew up as a Northern Black during the 1960s, with the insight of a Southern Black. That’s because my parents were children of the Great Migration of the 1940s. While Dad’s family came to South Bend, Indiana, from Dell, Arkansas, Mom’s folks traveled to that same city from Palestine, Mississippi. My maternal great-grandfather was around often. Before he died in 1964 at 111, as the oldest person in the United States, he told us about his time as a water boy during the Civil War. South Bend lacked his Jim Crow stories, but there were racial issues. For instance: It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the South Bend golf courses were integrated by Dad and his friends.

Four years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, I was 12 years old, and I touched the fingertips of Robert Kennedy, a huge advocate for African Americans and the working poor. He leaned from the back seat of a moving car for my right hand during one of his campaign motorcades as he ran to be the 1968 Democratic nominee for U.S. president. I thought RFK would place an exclamation mark behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he was assassinated two months after our encounter, which was on April 4, hours before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

I became a Jackie Robinson in the media as the first Black sportswriter for both the Cincinnati Enquirer and the San Francisco Examiner. A reporter for the rival San Francisco newspaper called me the N-word because he was upset I kept scooping him and the other White reporters. I also had racial battles with readers and editors for 25 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where I was the first Black sports columnist in the history of the South and only the third in the history of major U.S. newspapers. At the AJC, editors often buried columns I wrote deep in the sports section that they thought were too racially explosive, or they killed the columns altogether.

I’ve lived in Atlanta since 1985, and the “City Too Busy to Hate” has a bridge on I-75 named after Lester Maddox, the former Georgia governor and staunch segregationist. He received the honor not in 1899 but in 1999, just before the 21st century. According to Georgia Senate Resolution 151 from 1999, Maddox “earned the respect, friendship, and admiration of the members of the General Assembly and the citizens of Georgia,” which tells you the New South is often new in name only.

Terence Moore is a sports columnist who writes for Forbes and CNN.com. He is the author of two books, including The Real Hank Aaron.

This article appears in our June 2024 issue.