When Jim Crow Plagued Jersey

A new book explains how the Shore was an economic and social laboratory for civil rights after slavery ended.

Imagine visiting Atlantic City and being barred from your beach of choice. Or being told to stay off the Asbury Park boardwalk until after 10:30 pm. From the late 19th century all the way until the 1960s, African-Americans in New Jersey regularly faced such Jim Crow treatment.

Author David E. Goldberg documents the era in The Retreats of Reconstruction: Race, Leisure, and the Politics of Segregation at the New Jersey Shore, 1865-1920 (Fordham University Press). A history professor at Drury University in Missouri, Goldberg says the Shore was an economic and social laboratory for civil rights after slavery ended.

“The Jersey Shore was an emerging consumer economy,” says Goldberg, whose book focuses on Atlantic City and Asbury Park. “A lot of different people—blacks and whites—were coming to the region, and the beaches were new spaces for everyone.”

African-Americans working in hotels and restaurants frequented by whites were denied access to those same restaurants and hotels. Under the notion of separate but equal, African-Americans had their own beaches and their own segregated neighborhoods in Atlantic City (the Northside) and Asbury Park (the West End). “Blacks were excluded from many venues,” says Goldberg, “but they had the ability to purchase property and operate their own venues in limited areas.”

Change began to unfold after World War II, thanks to growing pressure from civil rights groups and increased options for white vacationers beyond the Jersey Shore. “By the early 1960s,” says Goldberg, “many white proprietors began to gradually admit black customers.”

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