ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – If you look on Google Maps, in Atlantic City, you’ll find a beach that even today, some still refer to as “Chicken Bone Beach”. If you walk straight out the doors of the Rainforest cafe, cross the boardwalk and enter the beach, you’ll be on Chicken Bone Beach, a beach that once served as the “Colored Only” segregated beach in the city. The problems in Atlantic City started around the turn of the twentieth century. It was a time when blacks and whites across New Jersey shared the beaches without any problems or concerns.
According to Blackpast.Org, things started to change for African Americans in the early 1900’s as Atlantic City began to attract more vacationers from the Jim Crowe states of the south during the segregation era. Eventually, African Americans were segregated to the beach area near Missouri Avenue, home of the present-day Rainforest Cafe. Many historians say the name was given to the beach because it was littered with chicken bones, from the fried chicken lunches brought to the beach by beachgoers. Some feel there are some negative racial undertones behind the name.
Despite the fact that the city only allowed blacks on one beach, the community made Chicken Bone Beach their own, organizing summer events, concerts and other forms of beach and boardwalk entertainment for the beachgoers and visitors. The situation was turned around to become symbolic as African Americans came together to support their culture and heritage, together in one place.
Until 1964, Chicken Bone Beach was the only place for people of color in the city to access the beach. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 declared that all beaches must be open to all races, ending the nearly 70-year beach segregation policy in the city.
The site today is an endangered African American heritage site and in 1997, the council passed an ordinance that made the Missouri Avenue Beach, a historical landmark. The Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation works each year to keep the memories of the site alive by hosting free weekly jazz concerts. The foundation works hard to keep the cultural vibe of the beach alive and to pass that tradition down to younger generations. The foundation was started by Henrietta Shelton in 1974.