Guest Author - Rev. Jackie O´Neal S.T.M.
Chicken Bone Beach
Chase’s calendar of events designates July as African-American family month, and the listing inspired me to feature the 10th Anniversary celebration of The Chicken Bone beach Historical Foundation, Inc. The non-profit was started by Atlantic City, life-long resident, Henrietta Shelton.
Although Atlantic City once enjoyed the reputation of a place where dreams come true, it was not the case for African-Americans from 1900 to the early 1950’s. During the period of 1900 to the early 1950’s, African-Americans were restricted socially to one beach- the Missouri Avenue beach. Despite the restriction, thousands of families headed for the shore as their summer destination. It has been suggested the derogatory nick-name, Chicken Bone Beach was first used by the beach maintenance workers who claimed families did not discard their trash properly. After studying old photos of families enjoying summer at Chicken Bone Beach, I came to the conclusion- the beach was immaculate.
On August 6, 1997, through the efforts of Henrietta Shelton, the Atlantic City Council passed an ordinance declaring Chicken Bone beach a historical site. Today, Chicken Bone Beach remains a symbol of family unity and Black pride.
The Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, Inc. plans special activities throughout the season including fundraisers, family and educational programs, music by the sea summer youth camp, and provides annual academic scholarships for gifted high school seniors. During summer camp, budding musicians have the opportunity to develop their skills under the supervision of Jazz masters from around the country.
In July and August, the Foundation presents a free summer jazz series featuring talented and well-known jazz artists from around the world. During one of the seasons, Etta James performed and drew quite an audience. The performances are generally well attended by jazz lovers seeking a respite from slot machines and over-priced entertainment.
As a four year resident of Atlantic City, I’ve noted the local area lacks industry, and cultural programs. Sadly, the casinos provide the main source of revenue and industry to the local area—placing Atlantic City in the position of being a highly limited town. Programs like The Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, Inc., make an enormous impact in the local community- as an important venue for families to grow culturally and spiritually- in a town which seriously neglects its own.
Could the serious neglect be due to the fact that approximately 40% of the population is African-American? I hate to think the glittering town might still harbor racist feelings, but as I look around, I don’t see a progressive attitude, and I am thankful that through the work of the foundation, African-Americans can celebrate pride and family unity, and visitors can enjoy free jazz concerts- as a refreshing change of pace from the regular, die- hard, has-been entertainers still determined to remain in the limelight.
For more information: visit: http://chickenbonebeach.org