"Chicken Bone Beach," Atlantic City
During the era of segregation when most of Atlantic City's beaches were open only to whites, this beach was open to African Americans and provided a space for countless black families to enjoy time together. The Civil Rights Act made segregation a crime and contrary to many Southern beaches, Atlantic City complied with the law although informal patterns of discrimination and segregation continues. This beach was frequented by many black celebrities and musicians when they played at Atlantic City's casinos. It was also a haven for black families, many of whom would enjoy picnics at the beach. Local residents choked about the large numbers of chicken bones that were buried in the sand following a traditional Southern lunch of fried chicken, leading to the informal nickname "Chicken Bone Beach." Today, the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation preserves the history of this black enclave that is now open to all races and offers summer jazz concerts.
Backstory and Context
Prior to the early 1900’s, the beaches of Atlantic City were not segregated. With the creation of casinos and other businesses, however, many white business owners increased pressure on the city to cater to white customers, including those who were accustomed to a rigid color line. The laws of New Jersey and Atlantic City did not require racial segregation and there were never "white only" signs on the beaches or throughout the resorts. However, black customers and beach-goers were increasingly made to understand that their presence would not be tolerated in certain restaurants, hotels, and even public spaces. By the 1920s, Atlantic City mirrored many of the mores of the Jim Crow South. African American residents and tourists were made to understand that they could only enter the beach at Missouri Avenue regardless without ever passing a law mandating segregation.
The rise of segregation coincided with a dramatic increase in the African American population as the resorts and casinos hired many black workers as the city's transformation to a resort town grew through the 1920s and beyond. This beach became a central part of the black community and hosted events as jazz musicians and other black performers found refuge and a chance to entertain black audiences at this beach. During the day, the beach was full of families but the evenings saw performances by touring acts and musicians. Sammy Davis Jr. was one of may future stars who performed along the water and even iconic figures such as Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. made a visit to the beach.
Informal segregation continued following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Over time, the entire beach became open to all. In 1997, the Atlantic City Council declared Chicken Bone Beach to be a historical site and the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation sponsors a variety of events such as concerts throughout the summer.
Our History. Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation. . Accessed May 05, 2018. https://www.chickenbonebeach.org/black-history.
Stephens, Ronald. Chicken Bone Beach, Atlantic City, New Jersey (1900- ). BlackPast: An Online Reference Guide to African American History. . Accessed May 05, 2018. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/chicken-bone-beach-atlantic-city-new-jersey-1900.