BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – Ralph Hunter Sr. and the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey is winning a lot of fans, the latest being Oscar-winning actress and “The View” talk show host Whoopi Goldberg.
Goldberg will travel to Atlantic City Thursday (Sept. 20) for the dedication and unveiling of a portrait donated to the museum. The multi-talented entertainer will appear at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City for the unveiling and museum fundraiser from 2-5 p.m.
Goldberg personally plugged the museum on “The View” back in April. Hunter said the attention has meant a lot for the only African-American museum in New Jersey.
“Getting that kind of national attention lets the world realize that there’s something right here at home,” Hunter, the founder and longtime president of the museum, told FrontRunnerNewJersey.com last week.
“Our problem is, we’re not large enough. We have an archive of more than 11,000 pieces. Right now, today, you’re only looking at maybe 300 pieces, so what we’re in need of, so we can be more visible and have a location in such a place where that sign is flashing outside as it does. … We are the only African-American museum in the State of New Jersey, and a lot of people don’t know that.”
The attention Goldberg has lavished on the museum, which has locations at the Stockton University’s Noyes Arts Garage and in Newtonville, has been heartening, and welcoming for Hunter, who founded the museum in 2002.
Israeli artist Yigal Ozeri will also attend to unveil his 10-by-10-foot portrait of Goldberg at Harrah’s.
“I think people need to know that we’re telling a story of the founding of Atlantic City, we’re telling the story of its lifeguards, its firefights, we’re telling a story of its chambermaids, of its entrepreneurs, and all the people who worked hard to get that second generation of African-Americans to the next level,” Hunter said. “Our forefathers are to be commended, and recognized, and paid homage, simply because they were the beginning of what we have today.”
Hunter, who had a long career in retail before retiring, said he started collecting African-American memorabilia about 44 years ago as a hobby.
“The collection grew to over 3,000 pieces and, of course, it was really overwhelming at that point in time,” Hunter said. “We had the opportunity to be invited to go to a restaurant at a catering hall in Atlantic City, some 16 years ago. We had an exhibit there, and the mayor from Buena Vista Township and some of the council members saw a newspaper article in The Press of Atlantic City, and they invited me to come take a look at a building they had in Newtonville.”
That was how Hunter first established his museum there. His collection, though, did not stop growing. He added that the history of blacks in Atlantic City is woven tightly in the city’s history and the Atlantic City story cannot be completely told without it.
“Our archives … consist of lots and lots of great stories about people in Atlantic County, Atlantic City, and people from all over the world,” Hunter said. “But our emphasis is on making sure that the founding of Atlantic City and its forefathers, the people who actually built the city, are well represented in black history, and American history. We thrive to make sure that the voices that have gone on to the heavens still have a place here at the museum.”
From the segregated Missouri Avenue Beach, to Kentucky Avenue entertainment district, Club Harlem and the connection African-Americans had to city leader Nucky Johnson, which was portrayed in the fictional hit HBO series “Broadway Empire,” are all detailed in the museum.
In one portion of the museum, Hunter had copies of letters white hotel owners sent the city complaining about black frequently the beaches, which led to the segregation of the Atlantic City shoreline in the early 1900s. When asked how did he find such letters, Hunter simply smiled and said, “That’s what I do.”
Hunter expressed his disdain for Missouri Avenue Beach being called by the nickname “Chicken Bone Beach,” calling the term offensive and would like to set the record straight on what became the major hotspot for African-American celebrities coming to Atlantic City when they spent time on the shore.
He charged that no other racial group would have embraced such a racially-tinged name.
“The same thing holds true for the Italian-Americans, who live further down the beach,” Hunter said. “Imagine someone naming their beach Spaghetti and Meatball Beach. I mean, it’s just unheard of. And why African-Americans endured that name is beyond me.”
Hunter also highlights the redlining that happened in Atlantic City by race. While the South was well known for Jim Crow-styled segregation, he said black in the north faced similar situations where they were forced to live only in certain areas.
“Atlantic City was actually two cities, there was an African-American section of the city, which is called the Northside, that’s where our black church is, our doctors, our lawyers, our lay people, all school teachers, mailmen, firefighters, all lived in that area,” Hunter said. “It was an area that was actually put together back before the turn of the century, how they segregated the areas, and that part of Atlantic City was on other side of the tracks when the trains came into town.”
If you want to know about history and particular African-American history, Hunter is a nonstop wealth of it and his museum clearly takes on his energetic personality. The Goldberg event provides another opportunity for the community to celebrate it.
He said refreshments will be provided by Harrah’s Catering and Gordon Ramsay Steak with tickets going for $100. They are available for purchase at the museum or online at www.aahmsnj.org.