Opportunities lure Southerners away from home

Lure of good life in North can't overcome hearts that are in South

April 07, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBIUNE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — CHARLOTTE, N.C -- Edroy Moore cranked the engine of his '56 Oldsmobile and with his two good suits, his college textbooks and a photograph of his parents, he left home.

It was 1963, a blistering hot day in early July. Moore was 21. He drove from Kershaw in upstate South Carolina, away from the cotton fields and textile mills, the dirt roads and unheated shacks, 670 miles north to Englewood, N.J., and for nearly 30 years he never looked back. He had less than $25 in his wallet. But he aimed to make more. Much more.

As Fannie Moore watched her son drive away, she told her daughters: "All the people that's leaving the South, going to the North, all of them people are going to end up coming back to the South. I may not live to see it, but it's going to happen."

Edroy Moore wasn't running in fear of those pitch-dark nights when the Klan sneaked up with burning crosses. Not in anger at having to borrow folding chairs from the white high school whenever his black school held assembly. Not even in humiliation at witnessing his father "yes sir" every white man, no matter how young or insolent.

He wasn't running away from the South. He was running to the North, driving as fast as he could toward the promise of a job that paid a decent wage, dreaming of a home where he could bring his childhood sweetheart and their 6-month-old daughter, in a community where people would judge them for who they were, not by the color of their skin.

'Looking for something'

"I was looking for something I couldn't find in the South. There was almost an understanding that I would leave. Everybody I knew was getting out of high school and getting the heck out of Kershaw'" Moore said. "There were better jobs in the North than there were in the Southeast. In a small town like Kershaw, young black people left because there was no work for them. It kind of got to be a thing where there's nothing to do here, so you get your high school education and go North.

"I knew I wasn't going to work in the cotton mill. I saw no future in it. I wasn't going to farm. I wasn't going to work in the seed mill. So I went to New Jersey," Moore said.

His Uncle Eddie left ahead of him. His Uncle Alton. Uncle Isaac. Uncle Henry. Aunt Maimee. Aunt Lizzie. Aunt Bessie. Cousin Richard. Cousin Charlie. Friends from Hillside High School: Charles. Melvin. Ernest. Harvey. Edward. Jason. Herbert. Isaac. Woodrow.

Edroy Moore followed them North, step for step.

A different dream

Fannie Moore and her husband, Leroy, never considered leaving. They had a different dream. They wanted to own a house. Their children -- Edroy and the five others who survived childhood -- were born in a sharecropper's cabin on the side of a road in Lancaster County. No heat. No running water. No electricity. As poor as it was, they didn't own that old shack.

Fannie and Leroy Moore wanted to own a home.

Leroy Moore could wrestle 44 bales of cotton off 40 acres, four more bales than many farmers. He worked the overnight shift as a machinist at Springs Cotton Mills, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. But even at two jobs, 18 hours a day, working sunup to sundown with only a few hours for sleep, Leroy Moore had trouble making money enough to buy his six children shoes for the summer. He drove a mule, not a tractor. Every week, he hid money under his mattress, even if it was only a handful of pennies. He was saving for that house.

"I don't think either of my parents ever liked the idea of going North," Edroy Moore says. "They were more people who needed space, needed openness. They were used to the country. ... My mom was the Mother of the house. My father was the Father. He spoke in a soft voice. But when he spoke, everybody listened. He commanded respect and got it. ...

"The church was the most important part of our lives growing up. We went to church, to Sunday school, afternoon services, evening services. At night, everybody knelt down on their knees and prayed by the bed. The last words you heard before bed were: 'Make sure you say your prayers.' "

In 1953, Leroy Moore built his dream home: five rooms and an outhouse. It sat just outside Kershaw, but they claimed the town as home. Edroy was 11. His job after school was to hammer straight the bent nails. They couldn't afford to throw away anything, not even a bent nail. Leroy Moore had spent all his savings on 11 acres and a load of lumber.

They painted the house white, the color of a cotton boll, and built a porch out front and a barn and smokehouse in the back. They planted four shade trees and a vegetable garden.

Edroy was the only child who could help his father work the land. Curtis had joined the Air Force and was killed in a car wreck. Willie Frank moved to New Jersey. Alberta was studying at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Oveta and Loretta helped their mother tend house.

Moore remembers his father's philosophy. "His thing was 'never be ashamed of the kind of work you do, as long as you can earn an honest living.' "

Cross-burnings started

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