For years the Atlantic City Free Public Library (ACFPL), located at One North Tennessee Ave. in A.C., has been putting together an exceptional array of free exhibits and activities to honor February as Black History Month. Included this year is an exhibit called The Black Northside Empire: A Photographic Look at Atlantic City’s African-American Community, that was assembled by African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey founder Ralph E. Hunter Sr.
Atlantic City Weekly spoke with Don Latham, public information officer at the ACFPL, regarding the library’s Black History Month events/activities.
How much have the extensive contributions to Atlantic City’s history by the African-American community factored into the wide variety of programming that the ACFPL offers every year during Black History Month?
It’s certainly a huge factor. The African-American community has long been and will forever be an incredibly important part of the fabric of this community. Many of our greatest and most memorable programs in my five years at the Atlantic City Free Public Library have been related to Black History Month. I give credit to our staff for creating programs that are relevant and of great interest to people of all ages.
Along with music paying tribute to African-American jazz greats and movies honoring black history, you’re also doing a lot of hands-on workshops for children and children’s events — why is this an important element in the library’s programming?
We want the children to not just have fun but to learn while doing so. Many of our programs throughout the year include a lesson about the theme. Recently, we held an “I Have A Dream, Too” collage program. Participants learned about Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech, and then they worked together to create a collage based on their dreams for the world.
In your recent opening-night reception [Tues., Feb. 1] you debuted an exhibit by Ralph Hunter. Can you mention a few details of what this exhibit entails?
The exhibit, entitled The Black Northside Empire: A Photographic Look at Atlantic City’s African-American Community, is sensational and will be on display throughout February [Editor’s note: please call 345-2269 for the exhibit’s viewing hours, or visit acfpl.org]. It focuses on the Northside community mainly from the 1920s to ’40s while incorporating elements of Boardwalk Empire — including some shots of Nucky Johnson. Mr. Hunter has put more than 60 photos on display highlighting the residents, businesses, churches, organizations and influential people of the Northside. There are even seats from the old Alan Theatre on display. He does a great job creating incredible exhibits, and this year is no exception.
What are a few of the resources about Atlantic City’s African-American history, or Black History in general, that the library offers?
Our Heston Room houses a wealth of archives, files, books and more dedicated to Atlantic City history. Nelson Johnson used the Heston Collection for much of his research for The Northside, and many of the photos in his book are from that collection. Also, as part of our online research library available through our website [acfpl.org], we offer the Oxford African American Studies Center and Gale African American Studies Books. Atlantic City Library members can access those online resources from any computer with an Internet connection, 24/7.
You mentioned Nelson Johnson’s new book The Northside — does the library have some programming specifically tied into the book’s recent release?
In addition to offering the Black Northside Empire exhibit, we’re fortunate to have author Turiya S.A. Raheem and artist Tyrone L. Hart scheduled to appear at the library. Ms. Raheem will discuss her book, Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City: Wash’s and The Northside, at 2pm Saturday, Feb. 12. Mr. Hart, who created the art work for the cover of The Northside, will be here the following Saturday, Feb. 19, at 2pm. They will discuss their backgrounds, their work on their respective books and answer questions from the audience.
Many new programs have been put in place by the ACFPL since assuming management of the museum, the next of which is entitled “The Atlantic City Experience: The Night Clubs and the Northside.”
The Atlantic City Free Public Library will now be operating the Atlantic City Historical Museum located across from Revel on the Garden Pier.
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