Welcome Atlantic City resident and author Turiya S.A. Raheem's new column 'The Other Atlantic City' — only at acweekly.com. In her debut column Raheem talks about the city that most tourists don't get a chance to see or learn about.
“You’re from where?”
“Oh yeah, Atlanta, I hear it’s…”
“Nooooo, Atlantic City, New Jersey. You know, the Boardwalk, casinos…”
The conversations always began the same during the 30-plus years that I lived away from Atlantic City and only came to visit family and friends, but even today, many people don’t realize that we live in Atlantic City.
They think tourists only come to play here. But we do and we did — me, my parents, grandparents, a whole slew of aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors who wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.
It wasn’t the Atlantic City of today with all the gold and glitter, money jingling, being clutched and caressed wherever you go.
The sparkling, glassy hotel-casino complexes weren’t here then, but some of the old majestic hotels they’ve attached themselves to or completely replaced were here in antique elegance when I was a girl.
We also had the Club Harlem and the bright lights of Kentucky Avenue, where you could find the best in music and entertainment amid the aromas of seafood and soul food, which mingled like airwaves from one side of the street to the other.
We had the Wonder Gardens, featuring the Delfonics when I was a teen, and Kelly’s Chicken Wings and Mary’s Sub Shop. Lit Brothers department store, Petrie’s, Lerner’s and Homberger’s had anything a girl ever wanted to wear. People hustled and bustled all over Atlantic Avenue and perennially it seemed, down miles of soft-sand beaches and our unique Boardwalk.
We had our one high school, two junior highs and five elementaries, and we had lots of small businesses.
This time, I mean “we” literally, the Washington clan, one of many African-American family-owned and –operated businesses in the city when I was growing up. Grandpop and Grandmom Wash started with a tiny sandwich shop on Kentucky Avenue back in 1937.
By the 1950s, Wash and Sons’ Seafood Restaurant was a full-service place seating more than 100. Among our guests were celebrities, like Redd Foxx, Sammy Davis Jr., Nipsey Russell, Moms Mabley and Count Basie, who were featured at nightclubs on Kentucky Avenue.
They came to Wash’s in the wee hours of the morning for a fried fish and grits breakfast or a seafood platter. The whole meal could be bought for $6 in the '60s and it came with our famous already-sweetened iced tea and fresh-baked hot rolls.
During the '70s, while A.C. was trying to figure out if casino gambling would help the city get back on its feet, my uncles decided to close the restaurant and re-open the business as a bar, deli and catering business in Pleasantville, five miles away. It was the first time I had to work for people other than family.
All of us grandchildren had grown up at the restaurant, first learning to shred lettuce and carrots for salad, then spooning butter into little silver-looking dishes before becoming dishwashers, busboys, waiters and waitresses.
My parents renovated Wash’s Inn and added a grand reception hall about 12 years ago, but we are struggling to remain open during this recession like many small businesses across America.
If we must close, we can still say proudly that more than 70 years ago, we were one of the businesses that contributed to my hometown of Atlantic City becoming “The World’s Playground” before it was “Always Turned On.”
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.
One of the best documentaries I watched last month was entitled 'More Than a Month' by Shukree Hassan Tilghman, a film student at Columbia University.
Bell on opening up for Van Halen, new music and video projects, his mid-'60s band the Jazziacs, which played Atlantic City's jazz clubs at the time, and his legendary Godfather.
When are we going to hear more talk about the many efforts available to help parents, teen and otherwise, deal with their own lack of parenting skills, feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, depression and outdated employability skills?
A.C. Youth Exposure has a curriculum that includes everything from mentoring, tutoring, job and scholarship counseling, college and career exploration, to field trips. Modeled after the five-year-old Youth Exposure program in Plainfield, N.J., it is designed for students in grades 5th through 8th, a group sometimes overlooked by other programs.
I’m not sure if many decision-making officials truly understand how important honesty, inclusion and transparency are to the African-American community.
Nadirah Ruffin, Atlantic City Board of Education, the CRDA town-hall meetings and Raheem's original poem: 'The Ocean Has a Way With Me.'
"Hopefully, by Tuesday, March 29, the A.C. Board of Education members can agree not to close this alternative program, which, according to many, has practically saved the lives of some young people."
"For blocks and blocks, I would hear no other language spoken but Spanish. Then, there would be blocks and blocks where occupants spoke a different language at every house: French, Wolof, a Haitian patois, Ghujurati, Arabic, Bengali. One house would have a Virgin Mary statue in the front yard and next to it, there’d be a house with verses from the Qur’an on its front door."
It’s been very weird. When I decided to self-publish my book in Dec. 2009, I did it because an agent in New York told me — and this is pre-Obama — that nobody’s interested in black history now. I said, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Nobody is interested. That’s just the truth.’ Then, I think it was in April, HBO calls me.
Plus this week's new Drew Toonz cartoon, and the MLK Awards with Nelson Johnson speaking set for Jan. 14.
With the new TV series based on early Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire, coming this fall to HBO, I was glad when I received Turiya Raheem’s book Growing Up In the Other Atlantic City: Wash’s and the Northside. Finally there is a book that researches and documents the sights and sounds of A.C. from the African-American/Kentucky Avenue perspective. In other books and TV specials, places like Chicken Bone Beach, Club Harlem and the Wonder Gardens are footnotes to stories about places like the 500 Club and/or the Steele Pier. In Raheem’s book these places are more than just background. The long-gone...
Jacob Lawrence Day in Atlantic City
Black History, Jazz and Poetry