Acel Moore Telling the stories of his city, his community, his people and the world beyond them Fri, 19 Aug 2011 02:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A lifetime of achievement for Acel Moore Mon, 08 Aug 2011 03:57:16 +0000 When Acel Moore joined the staff of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1962, the rewrite guys called the white copy boys by their names and called him “Boy.” Acel didn’t appreciate being called a name that his mother hadn’t given him.

“I stood my ground by not answering to what was not my name – and took the fellow aside who yelled “Boy” loudest and most frequently,” Acel said. “I told him, quietly and privately, that calling a black man boy was a classic, racist insult and if he said it again that night, I would meet him after work and we could discuss it outside. When he sobered up, and thought about what I said, the behavior stopped.”

Acel receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from NABJ.

Acel told that story to an audience of his peers, friends, admirers and well-wishers at the National Association of Black Journalists’ “Salute to Excellence” gala last weekend. The organization he and 43 others founded in 1975 honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Progress has certainly been made, Acel said, noting that 2,500 people had come to Philadelphia to attend this year’s convention. That was a far cry from the 100 or fewer journalists who worked at the nation’s 1,800 newspapers back then.

“That so many young people aspire to the profession – even in these tough times – testifies to both the importance of journalism to democracy and the passion of our children to continue what my dear friend and NABJ founder the late Reggie Bryant called ‘the pursuit of truth,'” he said.

He noted that the struggle to get to this point has been an uphill battle – not much unlike his own challenge of regaining his mobility through physical therapy. Acel is in a wheelchair as a result of back surgery and works with a physical therapist several times a week.

You can read the complete speech and a Philadelphia Inquirer story about him receiving the award. You can view photos of Acel below at the convention. Please click on the first photo to start the gallery.

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A book of Acel’s “Urban Perspectives” columns Tue, 02 Aug 2011 04:47:52 +0000 Back in December 2010, Acel Moore wrote a commentary for The Philadelphia Inquirer about his habit of shopping late for Christmas gifts at mom-and-pop stores in the city. It had been two years since he had written his “Urban Perspectives” column and five years since he had retired from the newspaper.

He also mentioned that several surgeries on his back had left him paralyzed from the waist down. That Christmas-eve message sparked an outpouring of emails from people who had followed him during the 25 years he wrote a column for the Inquirer. They were happy to be reading him again and many offered their prayers for his recovery.

Acel received nearly 200 emails from readers, both admirers who had agreed with him – and read him “religiously,” as one writer noted – and others who disagreed but appreciated his honesty and fortitude.

“Your columns made me laugh, cry, and sometimes angry but never let me down,” one reader wrote.

“I look forward to future columns,” another wrote.

Even though his byline is no longer seen as often in The Inquirer, Acel still has a large following in Philadelphia and his name still commands respect. He is as much a Philadelphia institution as the city’s storied cheesesteaks and pretzels – without the cheese wiz and mustard, though.

Now, he’s pulling together a book of the best and most popular of his “Urban Perspectives” columns. But it will be more than a book of columns; it will also be a treatise on what he stood for and fought for to make the neighborhoods and the city better. Although his message was Philadelphia-centric, the issues he took on were universal.

Urban neighborhoods across the country have a commonality that makes one a cookie-cutter of the other. The same issues that affected Philadelphia were just as predominant in other major metropolitan areas.

Unfortunately, those issues have not been resolved. They are still as entrenched today as they were 25 years ago when Acel began his column: African American youth (especially young men) and violence – those who commit it, those who are the victims and those who rise above it. The racism that stunts the lives of so many African Americans. The poor quality of urban schools. The lack of regard for the poor. The absence of black fathers in the home.

The columns, though, were not all about pathos. The heart of the book will be the narratives of people who worked to improve their neighborhoods – the true unsung heroes – even when the odds were against them. Acel found them all over the city, from the Italian guy in South Philly to the grandmother in North Philly – each with a human story that transcended race.

To add some freshness and timeliness, the book will include updates on some of the people from his columns. He will offer his perspective on each chapter through essays containing contextual information about what precipitated them. It will also include excerpts from letters he has received pro and con. It will be divided into four sections: issues brought home, people who dared, close to heart and where do we go now.

Acel was first tapped by Inquirer Editor Gene Roberts to write about Philadelphia’s urban communities in 1981, four years after winning a Pulitzer Prize with reporter Wendell Rawls for helping to uncover abusive conditions at Fairview Hospital in western Pennsylvania. He had been at the newspaper since 1966, working his way up from a copy boy to reporter.

To write about his city and its neighborhoods was an honor that he took to heart. This was his home: He was born in South Philly, grew up in Point Breeze and went to Overbrook High School a few years behind one of the city’s all-stars, Wilt Chamberlain. He knew the city’s underbelly and its top side, and told the tales of both as only a native could.

He had seen how white reporters had ignored black neighborhoods, or wrote negatively and stereotypically about them. He countered that coverage with stories of real people and how they lived, worked and survived. Unlike some reporters, he was not afraid to walk their streets because this was where he grew up and where his cousins and aunts and uncles lived.

At his core, Acel is a storyteller just like his father. You could hear it in his columns, the way he took his time with the details of people’s lives and the research he conducted on even the least interesting of topics. He was not writing to push a personal agenda but a public one. Having spent much of his time talking to neighborhood people, he knew and wrote about issues that worried them or moved them. The newspaper was his platform and he was theirs.

He was just as conversant with the movers and shakers in the city. He confronted and befriended corporate leaders in paneled conference rooms and elected officials in the stone corridors of government buildings or at public events or simply by picking up the phone. And they all took his calls.

His most cherished accomplishment was his mentoring of young people, many of whom he guided toward careers in journalism. A diverse news media was one of Acel’s most important goals. At the Inquirer, he created two training programs for journalists of color: a copy-editing internship and a high school journalism workshop that bears his name. These programs were picked up by other newspapers across the country.

This year, the National Association of Black Journalists announced that he would receive its 2011 “Lifetime Achievement Award” at its national convention in Philadelphia in August.




Issues brought home: Race Tue, 02 Aug 2011 04:47:28 +0000 Acel is working on a book of his best and most popular columns. Here’s a glimpse of a chapter on one of the issues that affected people not only in Philadelphia but around the country – race, its impact and its entrenchment:

Race: A defining factor then and now

Nearly 100 years ago, African American scholar W.E.B. DuBois wrote that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line. African Americans began that century as pawns in a black and white chess board, fought midway to assert their rights as citizens and ended it in a racial stalemate of sorts with their white counterparts.

The civil rights movement that culminated in the 1960s certainly helped change laws as blacks struggled to make “real” the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They faced attitudes about race that were deep, insidious, and filled with hatred and ignorance. Racism fought back mightily, but determined men and women of all races pushed back even harder to dismantle some of the entrenched beliefs about the humanity of black people and the forces that kept them second class.

As it was a century ago, race is still a defining factor in the lives of Americans, black adn white.

But not entirely. Blacks still are subjected to bad schools, the lowest-paying jobs, the worst housing and unequal justice in the courts. While many have risen to middle class and upper middle-class status, others have become part of an underclass. They are the people of little or no means living in drug-infested and crime-ridden neighborhoods that are barely livable and un-leave-able. Those are the people for whom race defines and infiltrates all aspects of their lives.

That’s where we find ourselves in the second decade of the 21st century. Race is more nuanced, and class has become a defining factor that separates even people of color. We have created a class of African Americans who are third-generation children without fathers, drug addicts and those who only see drug-selling as a means of employment. We have neighborhoods overrun with guns used by people who no longer see humanity in each other.

In my columns, I tried to show that there were also people in those neighborhoods who – hampered by race and other issues – had middle-class values. Their ideals and moral standards were the same as black and whites who were economically more secure. The neighborhoods may abound with abject poverty, crime, drugs and other ills, but in some homes, people believed in the notion of right and wrong.


A Column Excerpt:

The racial divide is only widening

Dec. 20, 1990

Each day as I flinch at the race-baiting rhetoric of some political leader or strategist appealing to the lowest common denominator of the American public, two prophetic assertions about racism in America ring with a numbing and chilling truth. The first was made by black scholar and sociologist W.E.B. Dubois 87 years ago, and the other was contained in the 1968 report by the Kerner Commission, which studied the causes of the 1960s urban riots.

Confirmation of DuBois’ prophecy in his study “The Souls of Black Folk” that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the “color line,” has never been more apparent than it is today in America.

And the assertion by the Kerner Commission – that “this nation is rapidly moving toward two increasingly separate Americas,” one black and concentrated in large urban areas, the other white and located in the suburbs, small cities and the peripheral parts of large cities – has also been realized.

The consequences of those dire prophecies will continue to haunt us into the 21st century and may eventually destroy this nation unless strong leadership emerges to change our priorities and direct us onto a new course.

Unfortunately, the leaders who have come to the forefront in the last decade have promulgated policies that have served to worsen the breach between black and white America. …


Read excerpts from other sections of the proposed book:

People who dared

Close to heart









People who dared Tue, 02 Aug 2011 04:46:57 +0000 Acel is working on a book of his best and most popular columns. Here’s a glimpse of a chapter on some of the most fascinating people he met in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia. They’re the “unsung heroes” to whom he gave a face and a voice. He’ll follow up to see where they are now:

Out front and making a difference

Jean Hobson’s voice was bigger than her body. She was a small woman with a commanding voice and an even more forceful presence. She and about eight other women whom Acel called “Philadelphia’s Steel Magnolias” were the impetus behind the elimination of gang violence in Philadelphia during the 1970s.

I watched as she and other mothers of gang members walked into the middle of fights, her swinging at them to make them back off. None of them dared touch her; she had a charisma the boys respected and spoke in a vernacular they understood. She was like their grandmother, and no one back then laid a hand on their grandmother.

Acel Moore dubbed them "Philadelphia's Steel Magnolias," a group of women who fought against gangs and for their neighborhoods in the 1970s.

Hobson was one of those people who lived in rough neighborhoods but would not allow them to be taken over by young toughs and criminals. They all were courageous leaders who didn’t back down. The city of Philadelphia was filled with people like her who were in the trenches but never got written about. I found out about them through my forays into the neighborhoods, from visiting community meetings, or through a phone call from someone who knew them or saw them in action.

Some of the people didn’t run programs but made a difference by the way they lived. They were married and had jobs, and were treated with respect by young and old. They were addressed by titles of Mr. and Mrs. They were sanitation or other city workers – strong men and women who were not intimidated by tough-acting boys.

They were not the types of people who touted themselves because they didn’t see what they were doing as anything special. In their minds, they were just saving their children – and their neighborhoods along with it. By telling their stories, I was hoping that people in other towns would be inspired to act just as these people had – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways, but always for the better.

A Column Excerpt:

A boy needed help, and a cop answered

Nov. 8, 1990

Although bright, (the boy) fits the classic profile of a child at risk. At school he is performing below his potential. Lateness and absenteeism dot his record. He is a behavioral problem. The product of a single-parent household, he suffers from low self-esteem and is in need of a strong and positive male influence in his life.

Enter the cop.

Three weeks ago, Sgt. William J. Walls, a 10-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, assigned to the 22d Police District at 17th and Montgomery, was sent to the school that the boy attends by his commanding officer, Capt. Al Lewis. It was in response to a call from school officials about a boy who was unruly and creating a disturbance.

When Walls arrived in the principal’s office, he saw a male teacher holding the boy around the waist in an effort to restrain him. The boy was shouting in anger and flailing his arms and legs about. Despite the boy’s small frame of 60 pounds or so, the teacher was having difficulty controlling him.

Walls later learned that the boy had been in three fistfights that day with other students and had been belligerent to teachers and the principal. Upon seeing the uniformed officer, the boy began to calm down. Walls, 33, the father of two boys – an infant and a 7-year-old – immediately began to talk to the child.

“Are you going to arrest me?” the boy asked.

“No, but you have to calm down,” responded Walls. “Tell me. What’s the problem?”

Walls took the boy aside and began a conversation that has turned into a relationship between a boy in need of a man friend and a man of compassion who wants to help a troubled boy. …


Read excerpts from other sections of the proposed book:

Issues brought home

Close to heart




Close to heart: Family, fatherhood and traditions Tue, 02 Aug 2011 04:46:16 +0000 Acel is working on a book of his best and most popular columns. Here’s a glimpse of a chapter on some of the personal issues that are important to him: fatherhood, family, African American children, cultural traditions. He celebrated them all with a passion: 

Forming the ties that keep us connected

Acel was raised in a nuclear family with a loving and caring mother and a father who provided for him, his sister and his twin brother. His mother was a calm and reassuring woman who knew how to make a worry disappear, and who had a patience that likely grew from her talent for knitting and crocheting. She was the one who called or sent letters to Acel when he was in the Army.

His father was the one who helped make his twin brother Michael and him into the men they are today. Having a father was one of the most important things in his life. You simply need a father to help make a son into a man.

Acel as a young reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He was a skilled electrician who worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard when Acel was a child. They developed a close relationship early on, and as an adult, Acel would sit with him and listen to his wonderful stories. Or they’d talk politics. Or anything else that was on his mind.

That’s what a relationship between parents and children is supposed to be. Through the years, though, that notion has been chipped away. Back in 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was vilified for attributing problems in the African American community to the breakdown of the family structure. The breakdown thwarted any social and economic progress among black people, according to his study.

Moynihan’s prediction has come true. Many black families are suffering from the weight of too few fathers who should be taking care of their children. Too many children are growing up with mothers who are trying to do it all alone. Many times, the boys get lost because they don’t have a strong male figure to look up to. Not to discount mothers, but children need both.

There’s a sense of hopelessness that pervades the communities where these children live. You can feel it when you walk through them. Those with middle-class aspirations have moved out. Those who served as extended families – related or not – no longer bother. The connections that kept children safe and disciplined have deteriorated.

Acel has worked to keep the chain linked in his own family, trying to be the father to his son and daughter that his father was to him. He has tried to develop a loving relationship with them, and he was there for them – from taking his son on trips with him and engaging him in projects to teaching his daughter how to ride a two-wheeler, all he chronicled in my columns.

That’s what fathers are for.


A Column Excerpt:

Of fathers and sons and family traditions

Dec. 27, 1984

A few days before Christmas, as we have done since he was old enough to walk, my son, Acel Moore Jr. and I went out and bought a tree. It has become a tradition that has withstood 16 years and even a divorce.

The tree that we selected, as always, was a Scotch pine. As usual we chose the tree after first stopping at several places to feel, smell and inspect. The one we bought this year met our standards. It was a beautiful six-footer that leaked the fragrance of pine. It had little brown cones protruding from dark green strands of soft pine needles that showed not even a trace of yellow.

The tree-buying expedition has always been one of the joys that make my Christmas. But a touch of sadness entered my mind for the first time this year; I am sure my son felt it as well.

I wondered whether this would be the last Christmas that we would get the tree together. After all, I thought, he is now 17, a senior in high school. My son is strong and tall and certainly is old enough to buy the tree and put it up by himself. Next year he probably will be away in college and maybe he won’t feel the need for us to buy a tree together. …



Read excerpts from other sections of the proposed book:

Issues brought home

People who dared