Neill Borowski
Neill Borowski, Press of Atlantic City Editor

Atop this page you'll find a commentary by John H. Lyles-Belton of Atlantic City. Last year, Lyles-Belton was a member of our first Community Editorial Board, a collection of area residents who met with us each month for six months to discuss pressing local, state and national issues.

Time after time, when we looked to him for his opinion of the most pressing issues of the day, he would simply state: Unemployment of African-American men in Atlantic City - especially young black men.

Lyles-Belton was able to cut through all of the issues facing Atlantic City and South Jersey and single out the one he believed, if addressed successfully, could have the greatest impact.

Issues need to be addressed.

Problems need to be solved.

We need to look ahead as we learn from the past in our serialization of Nelson Johnson's superb new book, The Northside - African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City.

Through mid-March, we will serialize seven of the 12 chapters of the book every Sunday and Wednesday. In addition, a special documentary on the history of African Americans in South Jersey called "Black History: Building a Legacy in South Jersey" by Dan Good, an editor at The Press of Atlantic City, airs tonight at 11:30 p.m. on NBC 40. The documentary will be posted this week on Through February, The Press' reporters also will be reporting on the African-American communities in the area.

Like Johnson's book that came before this one, Boardwalk Empire, this provides the reader with a great deal of history of Atlantic City. The first book was loosely adapted into HBO's award-winning series of the same name that debuted last September.

But unlike the first book, The Northside is not a story of the hot times in Atlantic City and corrupt politicians. This book shows us the rich contributions that African Americans made to Atlantic City from its beginnings. Much of it is saddening and some of it is maddening.

You'll learn in Johnson's book about how Atlantic City was built in large part by African Americans. Johnson says blacks were focused on the "three D's" of jobs - those that were dirty, difficult or dangerous.

Johnson writes that there should be no question about the importance of the contributions of blacks to Atlantic City. "African-Americans built Atlantic City. Remove them from its history and the town we know today never comes to be," he writes.

"The role of black people in the creation of Atlantic City has been overlooked far too long, and the town is not the better for it," Johnson writes. "The goal of this work is to preserve the life stories of some extraordinary people and of a special place in time in danger of being forgotten."

While the over-arching theme of the book is the creation and growth of Atlantic City, the focus is on the Northside, a unique section of town.

"White racism may have forced the creation of a physical ghetto, but it was civic-minded upper- and middle-class blacks who led their community to create an institutional ghetto in order to provide services the white power structure had denied African-Americans," Johnson writes in the prologue. "Nevertheless, a tree is best judged by the quality of the fruit it bears, and, at full bloom, the Northside yielded a remarkable crop of talented individuals."

I hope everyone comes away with a solid foundation of the past on which to build the future.

Lyles-Belton notes the problem of the unemployed African-American man. But there are far more problems, both in Atlantic City and beyond. Many are not race-related. They relate more to the lack of opportunities for all people.

Our stories in the coming weeks will consider some of these issues. Before the end of the series, we will schedule a public meeting and panel discussion in Atlantic City not to discuss where we've been but to help provide direction to where we are going.

Johnson said it best in the book's prologue: "Understanding the past is more than an intellectual exercise. It can be a path to comprehending the present and creating the future."

As always, we value hearing your comments, suggestions and criticism. Feel free to send me an e-mail at

Neill Borowski is executive editor/content director of The Press of Atlantic City.

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