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August 04, 2022

Photography exhibit at Temple University features historic African American beach in Atlantic City

The collection, on display through Aug. 30, presents images of Chicken Bone Beach taken by photographer John W. Mosley

Arts & Culture Photography
Temple Chicken Bone Beach photo exhibit Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

An exhibit at Temple University showcases pictures of Chicken Bone Beach in Atlantic City by prominent African American photographer John W. Mosley. The collection is on display at the school's Charles Library through Aug. 30.

A new exhibition that's currently on display at Temple University highlights a historic Atlantic City summer destination for African Americans.

"Chicken Bone Beach: The Photography of John W. Mosley and the African-American Experience in Atlantic City" is available to view in the school's Charles Library at 1900 N. 13th St. through Aug. 30.

Mosley, who died in 1969, was an African American photographer whose work appeared in newspapers throughout the eastern United States. He photographed numerous famous subjects, including Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B Du Bois and Langston Hughes.

In the beginning of the 20th century, segregation practices relegated African Americans vacationing in Atlantic City to the beach at Missouri Avenue, known as Chicken Bone Beach. The beach became a Black cultural hub and place of community during the summer, where prominent figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Joe Louis and Sammy Davis Jr. would spend their vacations during the Civil Rights era.

"It was about creating a space in a society where they were systematically excluded from having a voice, but instead of labor, they embraced freedom, leisure and rest," Lesley Willis-Lowry, curator of the exhibit, said in a release.

The passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 ended segregation, and in 1997 Chicken Bone Beach was declared a historic landmark by Atlantic City Council.

Temple's Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection acquired the exclusive photos in the late 1980s. Willis-Lowry, an archivist for the Blockson collection, curated the exhibit in collaboration with the Heston Collection at the Atlantic City Free Public Library and the private collection of Atlantic City historian Vicki Gold Levi.

Along with Mosley's work, the exhibit features rare original portraits from photography studios on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Artifacts from Levi's private collection, as well as memorabilia from famous Atlantic City figures and destinations, also are on display.

The mounting of the exhibit was inspired by the 113th NAACP National Convention, which was held in Atlantic City in July. Mosley previously documented the NAACP rally and 1964 Democratic National Convention also held in Atlantic City. 

"In a time when there is a movement to erase Black history, it's important for the university to tell the story of not only the African American struggle for human rights but also the experience of Black joy as resistance in response to the heaviness of existing in an anti-Black world," Willis-Lowry said.

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