Earnest L. Reese Jr., 70, pioneer black Atlanta sportswriter

Thirty-eight years ago, Ernie Reese became one of the first African-Americans to cover sports for a major Southern newspaper.

Guy Curtright, a retired Atlanta Constitution sports reporter and editor, remembers vividly that night in 1974 when Mr. Reese made his initial appearance at the office.

“Ernie got off the elevator and approached the sports desk,” Mr. Curtright said. “He was a total stranger. The senior editors had given us no inkling of his coming to work for us.”

It was a highly awkward moment for Mr. Reese, Mr. Curtright said.

“Just the same, Ernie made the best of it, and within a few weeks, he was a beloved member of our department. Trained as an athlete and coach, he transformed himself into a memorable sports journalist,” Mr. Curtright said.

In his 29 years with the Constitution, Mr. Reese earned 11 state and national awards, including an Associated Press Sports Editors’ first-place honor for a series entitled “Run for Respect,” detailing the role sports played in integrating Southern society.

In 2004 he was honored with the National Association of Black Journalists’ Sports Pioneer of the Year award.

“Ernie was an absolute joy to work with,” said Don Boykin, a retired AJC deputy managing editor. “I always knew I could count on his giving maximum effort, whether he was writing a major feature for the sports cover page or a squib inside the section.”

Thanks to Mr. Reese, Mr. Boykin said, the Journal-Constitution had comprehensive coverage of sports at metro Atlanta’s smaller universities and colleges, as well as high schools.

“Ernie owned that beat,” Mr. Boykin said, “because he dedicated himself to developing relationships with administrators, coaches and players. They, in turn, trusted him and always returned his phone calls.”

Pete Scott, now a Henry Daily Herald assistant managing editor, said he and Mr. Reese became co-workers at the Atlanta newspapers while leftover battles from the days of integration were still being waged.

“Ernie was entrusted with a beat for the Constitution, and I was given the same opportunity at the Journal on the news side,” Mr. Scott said.

Growing up, Mr. Scott said, the two of them shared admonitions from their parents and others “that if we wanted to achieve success, we had to work twice as hard, and we both took that took heart.”

Mr. Scott also recalled that Mr. Reese was part of the news team that produced an award-winning series in the 1970s about the “Two Atlantas,” which showed the wide gulf in standards of living between most blacks and whites as a consequence of segregation. “Ernie was one of the reporters who went to the underbelly of Atlanta to get the story,” Mr. Scott said.

Earnest L. Reese Jr., 70, died Thursday at his McDonough home of complications from prostate cancer. His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Shiloh Baptist Church, McDonough. W.D. Lemon & Sons Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Born and reared in Jackson, Miss., Mr. Reese was an all-state quarterback and first baseman in high school and a varsity athlete at Alcorn State University. After graduating in 1963, he was a high school coach and teacher, mostly in Georgia, for the next 10 years. Selected to take part in a WSB-sponsored fellowship program in 1973, Mr. Reese turned to a career in journalism.

In retirement, Mr. Reese started a basketball program at Shiloh Baptist Church for boys and girls. He also took pleasure in fishing, especially with his young grandson, Braelon Tate.

Survivors also include his wife of 47 years, Artelia Reese; his mother, Mamie Reese of Jackson, Miss.; a daughter, Regina Tate of McDonough; a son, Dr. Renford Reese of Pomona, Calif.; and three brothers, George Reese of Oakland, Calif., and Richard Reese and Carl Reese, both of Jackson, Miss.