A1 A1
Charlie Neibergall  

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is interviewed after the NFL AFC Championship football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, MO. The Chiefs won 35-24 to advance to Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Some South Jersey residents key in preserving black history

Some South Jersey blacks have spent decades researching, documenting and spreading the word about the history of African Americans in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

These middle-aged and older blacks hope a new generation will continue the work they started and be passionate about investigating African-American life in South Jersey.

Wendel A. White, photography and American studies professor at Stockton University, believes there are younger adults interested in South Jersey’s black history, with even more people in the future who may be fascinated.

“I think there will be as long as members of the community — and I include myself as having the responsibility — make time to make those connections with the younger generation,” said White, 62.

Ralph E. Hunter Sr., of Atlantic City, is one of the most dedicated people in the chronicling of South Jersey’s black history.

The African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey in Newtonville and the Noyes Arts Garage in Atlantic City were both established by Hunter. Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. would like to see a third location open on Kentucky Avenue, home of the now-defunct Club Harlem among other historic venues.

Hunter, 81, helps keep alive memories of the resort’s Northside, the section of the city north of Atlantic Avenue. Blacks came to the resort during the 1920s and ’30s as a result of the Great Migration from the South and found jobs and housing in the Northside.

Hunter has been making sure the history of the region is preserved since he arrived in 1954 from Philadelphia to work.

“I saw tens of thousands of people like me, walking up and down the street. They were driving fine automobiles. People were policemen, firefighters. It was just amazing. I had never seen anything like that in my life as a young teenager coming into the city for the first time,” said Hunter about the power of blacks involved with the city and the government. “I was really impressed.”

Bernadette Matthews’ childhood also played a role in her interest in black history before she arrived 15 years ago in Cape May County.

Matthews, 70, was born and raised in Chester, Pennsylvania. The late Martin Luther King Jr. was a student at Crozer Theological Seminary near Chester and attended Calvary Baptist Church in Chester.

“Black history, or as it is called now African-American history, was always a part of my life,” said Matthews, of Cape May Court House.

During the time Matthews has lived in Cape May County, she has been the executive director for the Center for Community Arts and is currently the board chairwoman of the Stephen Smith House on Lafayette Street in Cape May.

Smith was a key figure in helping to free slaves through the Underground Railroad, among other accomplishments.

Matthews views the Smith House as part of an African-American quadrant in Cape May that includes the Franklin Street School, which was a segregated school for black children; two African-American churches, Macedonia Baptist Church and Franklin Street United Methodist Church, which is now condominiums; and Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Cape May is only 4.9% black, or 175 of 3,607 people, but many African Americans who left Cape May relocated to Whitesboro, which is 37% black, Matthews said.

“You can’t rewrite history, but you can make it better,” Matthews said. “Whenever I am called upon to speak out about African-American history, I will do that.”

Besides the pain of segregation, South Jersey has had at least one known Ku Klux Klan rally. During the first half of April 1990, the Klan came to Millville to scream obscenities and shout about white supremacy.

Mike Santiago, 57, a Vineland resident who has also lived in Bridgeton and Millville, recalls attending an anti-Klan march during the early 1980s in Millville.

Santiago wrote a book titled “African-American Firsts in the City of Bridgeton.” The book chronicles African Americans such as Brison Manor, who was the first black man from the city to play in the NFL (and went to the Super Bowl), and Albert B. Kelly, the city’s current and first black mayor.

Santiago’s Bridgeton book is in every public school library in the city. His next book will focus on prominent black people from Vineland.

Frederick Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement, which sought to end the practice of slavery, visited Vineland and was thinking of buying a home there, Santiago said. Evangelist, abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, also a former slave, came to Vineland to help fight for women’s rights, he said.

White, of Galloway Township, was lucky to have his mother and godmother introduce black history to him to the point where it became the work he did in his life. He knows that all black South Jersey children are not as fortunate.

He has seen people such as Stockton Professor of Music Beverly Vaughn and Henrietta Shelton, founder of the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, run programs and be involved with the community when it comes to black history.

“All of those individuals I feel are making time to make sure these narratives are passed on to the next generation, and the next generation gets the chance to see the enthusiasm,” White said.

SEEN at Black Girl Beach Day in Atlantic City

Playground Pier tenants optimistic about future after sale

ATLANTIC CITY — Among the potential beneficiaries of the recent sale of the Playground Pier is one of the city’s self-described “best kept secrets.”

One Atlantic Events, a luxury venue space atop the Pier, offers panoramic views of the ocean, beach, Boardwalk and city skyline, with farm-to-table cuisine and a service staff “that truly cares,” said Elizabeth McGlinn, general manager and director of operations.

The issue for One Atlantic, at least for the past four years, has been its relative anonymity inside a facility that has been on a steady decline and “fighting the battle of perception,” she said.

What can be done to improve Atlantic City?

This past week, the oceanside retail complex was sold back to a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corp. — which is in the process of completing a merger with Eldorado Resorts Inc. — by Philadelphia-based developer Bart Blatstein.

“We are so excited with Eldorado’s new ownership of both Caesars and the pier, and to be a part of their upcoming renaissance of this spectacular building, for us and the city,” McGlinn said in a statement Friday.

Despite the external challenges, One Atlantic books an average of 120 events per year.

“We like to consider ourselves a diamond in the rough,” McGlinn said during a walk-through of One Atlantic late last year. “There’s still people who don’t know we’re here. Word of mouth is our best advertising ... and we’ve managed to find our niche in the city.”

Other longtime pier tenants have also faced challenges through the years. Phillips Seafood Restaurants operates three concepts — Phillips Seafood, Phillips Seafood Shack and Souzai Sushi and Sake — dating to 2006.

Michelle Torres, corporate director of marketing and business development for Phillips, said the difficulty in operating at the pier has been a combination of factors, including the condition of the city itself, the lack of steady convention business closer to the Boardwalk and the vacancies within the facility.

The number of people employed at Phillips’ concepts has declined as businesses around them have vacated and there is less year-round foot traffic in the pier. In 2012, Phillips employed 100 to 135 workers. Today, that figure is between 55 and 90, depending on the season.

But Phillips is not ready to give up on Atlantic City or the pier just yet.

“It is a challenge for us. And as it stands now, we are taking it year by year,” Torres said of Phillips’ future before the announcement of the Caesars sale. “We are committed to being there for the next few years.”

Blatstein, who owns Showboat Hotel Atlantic City and Garden Pier, said he wished “Eldorado well on their new journey” but declined to discuss details of the sale or his time operating the pier, which he purchased from Caesars in 2015 for $2.7 million.

“Caesars remains committed to Atlantic City and the future development of our brand through job growth and capital investment,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing plans for the pier over the next several months.”

Existing tenants are paying close attention to what the new ownership will do.

John Heinz, president of Triax 57, an online multimedia company whose studios and offices are located in the pier, said his history with Blatstein’s Tower Investments Inc. as landlord was a “first-class experience,” and he is optimistic, at least with regard to management’s operation of the pier, that will not change going forward. Heinz said he believes operations will be “business as usual” in the short term.

“Ultimately, it’s going to depend on how Caesars views our presence here, if they think that it’s beneficial to whatever their plan is for the property,” Heinz said.

GALLERY: A look at the Playground Pier

Edward Lea  

The Pier recently purchased by Caesars Atlantic City Thursday Jan 30, 2020. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City.


St. Joseph High School’s Jada Byers grabs a loose ball in the second quarter against Chester, PA. at the Battle by the Bay, at the Atlantic City High School, Saturday, Feb1, 2020. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)

Chris Carlson  

San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo arrives for Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at Marlins Park in Miami. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

David J. Phillip  

Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, right, chats with San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo during Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at Marlins Park in Miami. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

top story
What's next in the 2nd Congressional District race?

Tuesday’s rally by President Donald Trump in Wildwood cleared the GOP field in this year’s 2nd Congressional District race for U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, and drove home for Democrats “what they are up against in the election,” according to one political analyst.

Seeing the president of the United States “come to your district to embrace (Van Drew) — such a major media event … you’re realizing you are going up against quite a bit of firepower,” said John Froonjian, executive director of Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.

About 160,000 tickets were requested for the event, according to the Trump campaign, more than for any other rally Trump has held. Seven thousand were admitted, and thousands more stood in the cold to watch the rally on large screens just outside the Wildwoods Convention Center.

“On the Republican side, it essentially cleared the field. While Bob Patterson is still in the mix, Van Drew’s best-funded challenger has left for another district, and everyone else left the race,” Froonjian said.

From here, the Democrats go into a primary race, working to differentiate themselves from the pack while shoring up money and organizational power.

Van Drew and the Republicans, on the other hand, can start focusing on the general election and the 40% of voters in the district not affiliated with either party.

Two Democrats have recently established themselves as the strongest, said Carl Golden, a former political consultant to moderate Republican candidates Tom Kean and Christie Todd Whitman who is now a senior contributing analyst with the Hughes Center.

They are Longport’s Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University professor and the first to enter the race, and Brigantine’s Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate, former teacher and member of the nationally powerful Kennedy family.

“A primary is different,” Golden said, because those who vote are party diehards who tend to follow direction from party leaders. “Two things are most important: money and people on the ground. Kennedy and Harrison have that.”

Other Democrats, like Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett, West Cape May Commissioner John Francis, and House Oversight Committee staffer and Vineland resident Will Cunningham, will find it difficult to raise the kind of money needed and to gather and build the organization and professional staff to win a primary, Golden predicted.

And for Brigantine’s Robert Turkavage, a retired FBI agent who just changed parties from Republican to Democrat, the hopes of getting organizational support are slim.

Early on, Harrison got the endorsement of six of the eight county party chairs in the district, as well as from state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Atlantic County Democratic Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, and from unions like Unite Here Local 54.

“She started earlier (than anyone) and locked up a lot of organizational support, including the support of the Senate president, which signals the support of the Camden County political organization and George Norcross,” Froonjian said.

Kennedy countered with the endorsement of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee, controlled by the Callaway political organization. She also underscored her family’s connections to famous national leaders by bringing Martin Luther King III with her to the Trump rally protest.

“I have to say, Harrison seems to be in a stronger position in terms of organizational support. That’s really important in a primary,” Froonjian said.

Now, Kennedy has to spend money in the primary to counteract that, he said.

We won’t know how much she has raised until the Federal Election Commission releases financial reports April 15, Froonjian said.

“Right now, Kennedy has her name associated with American political icons. How strong that is in 2020 remains to be seen,” Froonjian said.

Much will depend on whether Kennedy can swing Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Mike Suleiman to her side, both Golden and Froonjian said.

“If Atlantic County were to swing to her, it would be a major development,” Golden said.

Suleiman said Friday he has no intention of endorsing anyone until after the Atlantic County Democratic Convention on March 8, when municipal chairs, elected officials and members of the county committee will vote on who gets the group’s backing and the best spot on the primary ballot.

Vote margins will be narrow, Golden predicted.

“No one is going to run away with this. Obviously that raises a question about being able to put (the party) together again in time for November,” Golden said.

While it’s typical to have a “unity breakfast and hug over bacon and eggs” after a primary fight, Golden said, it’s also typical to “then leave and do what you feel like anyway.”

“If they start attacking each other, the eventual leader may come out damaged,” Froonjian said. “You can be sure the Van Drew campaign will be watching every name-calling and nasty broadside. ... It just makes it harder for the eventual nominee to get going and to unite the party.”

Who is running in the 2nd Congressional District race?