Annually in February, Black History Month is our country’s opportunity to reflect and honor the past of our vibrant and amazing African-American citizens, embrace those making change today, and set an example for those who will hopefully change the world in the future. This year, Ocean Casino Resort is collaborating with The African American Heritage Museum in Atlantic City to bring some of that storied history to life. 
 
Ocean will be making a donation to the African American Museum, who will be bringing one of their traveling exhibits directly to Ocean. Our back-of-house team will be able to soak up the history in the on-display exhibit on both February 2nd and 3rd. The exhibit is called “Talking About HERstory,” and it puts 32 African-American women from South Jersey front & center, showcasing the impact that these women made in the Atlantic City area, and in New Jersey as a whole. Women like the first female African-American police officer in Atlantic City (and in the State of NJ) Margaret “Maggie” Creswell are profiled, and the exhibit was funded by Rita Mack, a noted African-American businesswoman who with her husband Ralph, has owned two separate McDonalds locations in the AC area for over thirty years. 
 
We spoke with the founder of The African American Heritage Museum, Ralph Hunter Sr., as he prepared to bring the exhibit to Ocean. He not only spoke at length about the exhibit and why it is important to share this history today, but reflected on the storied history of the African-American community in the Atlantic City area. 
 
As a historian of both Atlantic City and Southern New Jersey as a whole, what are some of the points of African-American history in Atlantic City that you want to be sure are noted in this exhibit?
 
Ralph Hunter Sr: The exhibit is called “Talking About HERstory” and points out African-American women from our region. One of the women in the exhibit was a multi-millionaire from the area, her name was Madame Sarah Spencer Washington. She owned a company called Apex, a hair care company. During the Depression, she had four thousand people working for her worldwide. She had beauty schools in six major cities on the East Coast and taught the first group of African-American women how to be entrepreneurs. They became the first group of African-Americans, male or female, to own or operate their own businesses. She was the first African-American to own a golf course in Atlantic County, the old Apex Country Club, where the great African-American golfers played during the Depression. She was also the first African-American woman to own and operate a major hotel, The Brigantine Hotel, in the 40’s. 
 
Of the 32 women we include in the exhibit, Dr. Vera King Farris was the first African American President of Stockton University. During her tenure, she brought the Holocaust museum to Stockton University. Rita Mack owns the largest volume of McDonalds franchises in Atlantic City, who also sponsored the exhibit. I met Rita Mack some time ago and she wanted to honor African American women in our region and give them their just due and that is what we did. 
 
The African American women of Atlantic City truly are a long and storied lineage that you have captured.
RHS:  Absolutely. In 1927, EnochLucky” Johnson (of Boardwalk Empire fame) hired the first female police officer in the United States who happened to be an African American woman. Her salary was the same salary that male police officers were being paid at that time, $2,500.00 annually. The exhibit points out people like Patty Harris, who was a Broadway dancer and had a dance studio, homegrown from Atlantic City. She taught 20,000 kids how to become dancers over her 85-year career. 
 
To be a historian of Atlantic City, what do you think is one of the most remarkable changes that you got to see for the African-American community, and specifically for women? 
RHS:  I truly thought we would actually see more. Integration, Brown vs. Board of Education, back in 1927 the beaches in Atlantic City were segregated. We can go back and tell those stories. The Democratic Convention came to Atlantic City when Fannie Lou Hamer gave her “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” speech. I have a trillion things; there isn’t just one thing that sticks out. I think honoring African American History in February is minuscule; I don’t see African-American history as “African American History,” I see it as American History.
I travel to more than 100 schools and universities annually with traveling exhibits and I get the chance to give this information to kids from elementary school all the way up through universities. This year, we are going to six schools in the Pleasantville School District and we have not been there for a few years; we are going back there to tell these stories. I think if more people understood the accomplishments of African Americans, they would better understand how we got from point A to point B. We have not gotten to point D yet, but it is a process. It is coming along; if we can make sure we have organizations such as Ocean Casino Resort be a part of the solution and giving their employees the opportunity to look cross-culturally and see the importance of these accomplishments. 
 
It must be remarkable to see how Atlantic City has changed for the African American community in so many ways..
RHS:  When I arrived in the 1950’s it was a booming town, with 30,000 African Americans who owned and operated their own businesses, becoming entrepreneurs  If I can take people back in time, to take them back to the 20’s and 30’s on Kentucky Avenue, or the fact that we had 13 African American doctors here, it was an amazing time. The Atlantic City High School in the 50s was one of the top ten high schools in the United States of America. I am so pleased with Atlantic City in general.
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