Ralph Hunter Sr., the president and founder of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey (AAHMSNJ) in Newtonville, was not born in Atlantic City, but he’s made his home here on the Northside since the 1950s.
I like to call him “Uncle Ralph” since my family has known him since the '50s. The women of his generation, now in their 70s, say they remember this “suave young brotha with a quo vidas,” a popular short haircut at the time, coming down from Philadelphia all the time, until he married a local woman named Janice and started a family in Atlantic City.
For most of the last six decades, Ralph has made his home here or not far away. In Cherry Hill, this self-made businessman and entrepreneur had an African import-export business for several years.
When the casinos came to Atlantic City, Resorts asked him to open a retail store in its building, because it could not open without a “minority” business being represented.
What ever happened to that ideal, huh?
Anyway, it wasn’t long after his Resorts store closed that Ralph moved on to another dream, the one about sharing his collection of African-American artifacts and memorabilia with others, founding the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey — near Buena, about 30 minutes from Atlantic City.
His one-time traveling exhibits found a permanent home when the historically-black town of Newtonville (Atlantic County) befriended Uncle Ralph and offered him space in a community center-trailer.
This was quite a few years back. However, with the current focus on non-gaming, family-friendly and cultural attractions in Atlantic City's future, here are some of the reasons why Ralph Hunter and the AAHMSNJ should have a home in Atlantic City:
1) Millions of people visit our city every year and would be interested in his collections, which include the doors of the former Club Harlem as well as old signage from the former black clubs in Atlantic City.
2) African-American contributions to Atlantic City's development and growth need to be recognized and highlighted somewhere in the city — not jusy 30 minutes away.
3) It would be a welcomed addition to a city that wants more “family-friendly” attractions.
4) Atlantic City is the most popular city in southern New Jersey and is a world-wide resort destination.
5) We owe it to future generations to leave them the legacy of their ancestors who built this city.
6) We love historic Newtonville for giving the AAHMSNJ a home when no one else would, but where is Newtonville again? How many people visit there each year?
7) So much of Ralph’s collection has to do with Atlantic City history.
8) At his age, Ralph should not have to travel so far to do what he loves.
9) More schools and local groups could benefit from his exhibits if they had a permanent location.
10) The AAHMSNJ could offer part-time and full-time work and/or internships to local residents.
So ... for all those people who keep telling me that the Atlantic City of my memories will never come back, maybe I will go to my grave smiling if at least there is a pavilion on the Boardwalk or, at most, there is a two-story building with permanent and revolving exhibits on the first floor and administrator/curator offices on the second floor with plenty of classrooms where all of the visual and performing arts are taught.
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