Photo Credit: Fran Polito
Chicken Bone Beach: The New Jersey Beach That Was Once The Only One Allowing Black Tourists
Drive along Atlantic City, NJ, just south of downtown, and you’d come across Chicken Bone Beach, a beach that was once designated exclusively for African Americans in the early 1900s.
It remained a Black-only beach until the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. Up until then, it was this beach that provided both recreation and entertainment for African Americans.
Before 1900, Blacks and whites in Atlantic City lived side-by-side and African Americans used the beaches without restriction. By 1900, hotel owners pushed Black beach-goers from the fronts of their establishments down to the Missouri Avenue beach south of the Million Dollar Pier. This move was done to appease a growing number of hotel guests from the Jim Crow South, as reported in Black Past.
In the 1940s, the beach provided entertainment from artists, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Jordan, the Mills Brothers, Jackie “Moms” Mabley, and the Club Harlem showgirls. The showgirls helped the beach attract more visitors after dubbing the beach “Sunshine Row.”
The nickname, Chicken Bone Beach, came from the tradition of the thousands of families who visited the beach bringing with them beach essentials, including beach balls, umbrellas, and blankets. They also carried picnic baskets with fried chicken and other delights for dining. When they finished eating, they buried the chicken bones in the sand.
After the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, Atlantic City beaches were open to everyone and this all-Black beach disappeared.
To protect this endangered African American heritage site, the Atlantic City Council passed an ordinance in 1997, declaring Chicken Bone Beach, also known as the Missouri Avenue Beach. into a historical landmark.