Posts Tagged ‘Racism at the Jersey Shore’

James A Bradley in Asbury Park. Accused of racism.  Paul Goldfinger photograph. ©  From 2017.  Reposted in 2018.


Are there any historical clouds over 19th century Ocean Grove? Paul Goldfinger photo. ©


Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger

We wrote about James Bradley as part of our Ocean Grove history trail.  Bradley was a wealthy New Yorker who was a huge fan of Ocean Grove.  He not only founded Asbury Park and Bradley Beach, but he was the first person to buy a lot in Ocean Grove (1870) when Rev. Stokes, placed the lots “for sale.”

Now, a group in Asbury wants to take down the statue of James Bradley that has a prominent location in the park to the rear of Convention Hall/Paramount Theater.  It was placed there in 1920 for the city’s 50th anniversary.

Quote from the Asbury Park Press (APP)  9/29/17:    “Randy Thompson, founder of “Help not Handcuffs,” an organization that says it promotes drug policy reform and social justice, claims Bradley promoted bigoted policies on the boardwalk and the beach.”

“He helped segregate the town,” said Thompson, 43, of Asbury Park. “That was his business model.”

That group says that Bradley was a racist, but others in Asbury disagree with the notion that his statue should be taken down. Werner Baumgartner, AP historian is quoted in the APP:  “I don’t think you can call the man a racist, when society kind of dictated certain separations,” Baumgartner said. “It might have been business pressures more than anything else, rather than a personal desire to segregate races.”

Baumgartner said the city erected the statue in honor of Bradley’s philanthropy and said that the founder donated money to local black churches.

Other leaders in A. Park also oppose taking down the statue, including the Asbury Park Historical Society which said, “People should never forget the city’s late founder James Bradley’s ‘advocacy of segregation,’  but it draws the line on removing the statue erected in his honor near Convention Hall. ”  (quoted in the APP)

Don Stine is President of the AP Historical Society,  and he is quoted in the APP:

“If you’re going to take down the statues of people who were segregationists in the United States, you would have to take down just about the statue of everybody,” said Stine said. “It was a segregated society. It just was.”

Stine said he favored keeping statues and monuments in place so that people can “learn lessons from the past.”

“He said the Historical Society is conducting a review of all statues and monuments in the city to see if it can help with their preservation. ‘We believe all monuments in this city are worthy,’ Stine said.”

An academic paper about segregation in AP 1880-1890 by David Goldberg  (see link below) points out that there was “Jim Crow enforcement*”   in both the North and the South, and James Bradley was pressured by white tourists into segregating the famous resort. Here are a few quotes from that paper:

“By 1887, however, Bradley responded by officially restricting all African Americans, both those who worked as well as those who sought to vacation in Asbury Park, from the beaches and other shore facilities. By posting signs throughout the community and stationing officers at pertinent shore locations, Bradley prohibited all black citizens from the beaches, bathing houses, pavilions, and promenades.”

“Viewing the shifting racial landscape throughout the nation, Asbury Park’s black leaders saw the resort’s emerging Jim Crow character as part of a disturbing nationwide trend toward racially-defined public and commercial boundaries.”

“Since Asbury Park served as a Diaspora for the North’s geographically-diverse white citizens, their protests against integration highlights the racist and unreconstructed sentiment of the North after emancipation.”

“As Jim Crow became permanently enforced * throughout the North and the South after 1896, these tensions would prove central to African American’s struggle for “integrated leisure,” which became an important part of the fight for racial equality and social acceptance.”


History of segregation in Asbury Park 1880-1890

 From the book Ocean Grove in Vintage Postcards by Bell and Flynn (2004,) Asbury Park was a segregated resort in the early part of the 20th century. African-American residents and visitors were not allowed to bathe on the city’s beaches between the Casino and Convention Hall.
“They had to use the so-called “black beach” located between the Casino and the North End Pavilion (OG).”
“Interestingly, Bradley, a devout Christian, initially resisted segregating Asbury’s beaches but finally he did so reluctantly.”

Blogfinger agrees with Mr. Stine, but, given the current political trends, will it come as a shock if somebody wants the Stokes statue removed?

We know that black workers were hired in 19th century Ocean Grove  (and later)  to work in the hotels and restaurants.  They often stayed in segregated quarters, and there are old photos which show blacks posing with guests and other workers. We also know that black gospel singers and preachers performed in the Great Auditorium.

But we don’t know if African Americans came to the Grove for recreation such as the amusements at the North End, the boardwalk and the beaches.

We also don”t know if Ocean Grove’s leaders took any inspiration from the segregationists in Asbury Park or if they resisted segregation on moral grounds. Goldberg’s paper doesn’t mention the Grove.  We do know that Stokes worried abut secularism, but we found no references to racial issues in his autobiography.

Ocean Grove in the 19th century was a white Methodist town, but that was due to their trying to establish an enclave for Methodists, so the Town tried to limit its home-owning citizens by excluding all sorts of groups including Roman Catholics, Jews, and blacks.

And can we call that racism since the basis of exclusion was not color but religion—-unless they did exclude black Methodists. It’s probably more like isolationism rather than exclusionism.  It was more about keeping to themselves rather than keeping others out.  And it is certainly not segregation such as Bradley is accused of.

Stokes is probably safe from the 21st century witch hunters who are  prowling around the Jersey Shore.

If we can find any other information, we will post it.  Meanwhile this seems like an issue which we should follow.


ALISON KRAUSS  From the movie  O Brother Where Art Thou:  “Down to the River to Pray.”

“O brothers, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
Come on, brothers, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray.”

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