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The Milans: Keeping Black History Alive Today

By Turiya S. A. Raheem
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 17, 2012

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Mr. Herbert Milan insisted that his wife, Elaine, was in charge, but I could tell that this couple works as a team. 

Former Atlantic City educators and principals, they continue their mission with local students by displaying a Black History Expo covering African-Americans in literature, science, education, politics, the arts and entertainment, sports and more, along with three Powerpoint presentations. 

Last week, the exhibit had more than 40 sections with a special one devoted to locals who have achieved great success in their careers and a featured “Trendsetters” section, A.C. locals under 40 who are doing great things today.

It’s hard to believe Herbert Milan has been an Atlantic City resident for more than 70 years; he doesn’t look a year over 60, if that! 

Born in Greenville, S.C., he and his mother came to our city in the early '40s after a few years of living with an aunt in Philadelphia. 

His mom had no more than a 5th grade education and his biological father he met only once he says sadly “for all of 45 seconds.” He credits his great upbringing to a stern mom and a step-dad he very fondly remembers. 

After serving in the U.S. Navy and working a number of menial jobs, Herbert credits his wife with encouraging him to attend college, first Delaware State, then Rutgers, where he obtained a master’s degree.

Mrs. Elaine Milan is the perfect match for her husband, clearly intelligent, thoughtful and attractive.  She had already graduated from Hampton University when she arrived in A.C. in 1964 to work at Indiana Avenue School, and later, she earned her master’s degree at Glassboro. 

She grew up in Harrisonburg, Va., where her father owned a barbershop and her mother worked in food service at James Madison University and enjoyed doing her own catering.

Between Mr. and Mrs. Milan, they were teachers or principals at practically every elementary school in Atlantic City before retiring in the late '90s. 

Herbert went on to part-time teaching at Stockton and a few years as a compliance officer for the state; Elaine stayed connected to the public schools by becoming coordinator of the Parent Resource Centers, a job she says she’s been trying to quit for 13 years now.

It was through the Parent Resource Centers that their journey towards the Black History Expo began.

Mr. Milan described himself as “a history buff,” but said his wife didn’t have much of an interest in history until the '60s when “everything black was beautiful.” 

Mrs. Milan began collecting articles from magazines, newspapers and calendars produced by Budweiser, Coors and Pabst Blue Ribbon especially for Black History Month. She began cataloguing everything she could find, ordering what she couldn’t find, and putting photos and articles into albums, folders and scrapbooks.

Colleagues at the Parent Resource Centers helped her to first exhibit at her church, St. James AME, and they invited students from nearby schools to come over and visit.

That was around 2001-2002.

Over the next few years, a group of volunteers, Mr. Milan included, traveled from school to school during Black History Month exhausting themselves by mounting the exhibit at one school for a few days, breaking it down on Fridays and mounting the whole thing all over again at another school by the following Monday. 

Not only that, volunteers also had to reconstruct worn and tattered sections from the previous year that had been stored away in the numerous bins the Milans use for their collectibles.

There’s no curator, big budget or temperature-controlled storage facilities. It is simply a labor of love for residents of Atlantic City, especially the children, many of whose parents and even grandparents they taught or supervised years ago.

This year was the third year the Black History Expo was able to coordinate with the city to use the All Wars’ Memorial Building (Soldiers’ Home) for three days of exhibiting. 

Again volunteers, many from the Parent Resource Centers, were there to escort guests and speak to the hundreds of students who now come on school buses to see and learn. Many have done some pre-reading or other activity in preparation for the day. On opening day this year, free and open to the public, there were refreshments, entertainment by the A.C. Theatre Guild, speakers, and the Powerpoint presentation ran all evening.

The Milans have certainly found an impressive way to keep giving to Atlantic City students and residents! 

Some of the local highlights from a Black History fact sheet circulated at the Expo, courtesy of 101 Women Plus:

Billy Bright, 1859, 1st Colored resident to live in Atlantic City

Clinton Edward, 1st Colored person born in Atlantic City

Aquilla Matthews, 1st Negro woman President of the A.C. Board of Education

Clara B. Rice, 1st Negro registered nurse at A.C. Hospital

Geraldine Satchell, 1st Colored girl in Atlantic City to graduate from college

Barbara Hudgins, 1st Black woman elected to A.C. City Council

Hattie E. Merritt, 1896, 1st Black teacher to be hired in A.C. (Indiana Ave. School)

Jordan E. Sayles, 1921, 1st Colored busboy at Dennis Hotel

Archie Rice, 1882, 1st Negro car dealer in Atlantic City
 


Turiya S.A. Raheem was born and raised in Atlantic City. Currently an English teacher at Atlantic Cape Community College, she loves to describe her neighborhood as “the other Atlantic City,” because it was not the casino-resort mecca most people know today. It was a place with a “cozy, down-home feeling” as she describes in her 2010 book, Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City: Wash’s and the Northside. 


Read more of 'The Other Atlantic City' columns by clicking here.

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