February is African American History month. Wildwood, along with the entire Jersey Cape, has a rich African American history. The first African American settlement was believed to be in Lower Township in 1831 and African Americans worked in the service industry in Cape May and became homeowners. African Americans settled in Whitesboro in 1902, after being forced out of Cape May. The land was purchased by a group of African American investors led by George Henry White, of North Carolina, an African American congressman at the start of the 20th century. White was joined by other prominent investors, Booker T. Washington and Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
At that same time, local African American business owners bought homes in the Wildwoods. They were in a segregated section. Beaches were also segregated until the 1960s. African Americans used Grant Street in Cape May, and Lincoln, Garfield and Roberts, in Wildwood. The lifeguards there were also African American. The Arctic Avenue School educated all African American Children from 1915-1945. During World War II, the Arctic school merged with the High School and was never reopened.
Wildwood was an entertainment hub for African American performers. They were not permitted to stay in white hotels, so African American establishments housed the Isley Brothers, Chubby Checker, Ed Townsend, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie and others. The Starlight Ballroom did not welcome African Americans so they had their own establishments. The Issy Buskoff’s club and the Savoy Ballroom became the most popular nightclubs in the country for the African American community.
Many more interesting facts and prominent leaders will be highlighted throughout the month.
Content compliments of the Whitesboro Historical Foundation and The Wildwood Historical George Boyer Museum