The Other Atlantic City

Art of Life — Produced by Karen Smyles

In September, Friday Art’s Art of Life segment will take viewers back in time with a visit to the historic Chicken Bone Beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Also known as Missouri Avenue Beach, the site fondly got the name because the segregated beach was visited by African Americans who would come to the beach with baskets of fried chicken, and when done, they would bury the bones in the sand.

In the early 1900’s, Atlantic City was a booming resort town with several grand hotels, wealthy visitors came from throughout the country, and people were needed to help it all run smoothly. This was also the beginning of the Great Migration which lasted into the 70’s and brought millions of African Americans out of the rural southern parts of the country. They found an abundance of work in Atlantic City as housekeepers, cooks, busboys and in every other service job you can think of.

White tourists began to complain to hotel owners about the presence of African Americans on the beaches in front of the hotels, so it was decided that blacks would be given their own beach in front of the Convention Center. Although the beaches were never officially segregated, blacks continued to primarily use this beach into the 70’s.

Beginning in the 1920’s with tourism at its peak, Atlantic City became known for its lively nightlife. Restaurants and nightclubs featured the most popular entertainers and people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey and Joe Louis became common faces at the famous Club Harlem. When their work was done, they also headed for Chicken Bone Beach because they knew they would be most welcome there. It was a place where on any day, you might even catch a glimpse of Rev. Martin Luther King in a swimsuit.

Our segment begins with an exhibition at The Art Sanctuary here in Philadelphia, of photographs by John W. Mosely from the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University. The exhibit runs thru the end of August 2014, and according to the organizations Executive Director, Valerie Gay, it has been a great opportunity to celebrate an important piece of local African American history.

We talk to Valerie Gay in the segment, along with two of Atlantic City’s well-known African American residents, who are working to make sure this history continues on. Ralph Hunter, Founder and President of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey helps tell the story of Chicken Bone Beach, along with Turiya S.A. Raheem, author of Growing Up In The Other Atlantic City. Both also serve as consultants to the popular HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

The interview with Ralph Hunter took place at The Atlantic City Historical Museum at The Garden Pier, where now through September 30th, 2014, you can see the exhibit Northside: The Way We Were, a pictorial history of African Americans in Atlantic City. The museum is operated by The Atlantic City Free Public Library.

Web Extra: Ralph Hunter

Ralph Hunter, Founder and President of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey shares how it all began and talks about some of the museum’s highlights. Edited by Michelle Saul-Yamasaki

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