New push to remove monument to Asbury Park’s racist founder
ASBURY PARK — Before Jim Crow was widespread in the South, there was Asbury Park in New Jersey.
The Jersey Shore community was founded in 1871 by James Bradley, a man who believed blacks should not intermingle with whites and that the sight of black people would damage the city's economy.
A statue of Bradley, the namesake of neighboring Bradley Beach, remains at Sunset Park years after residents in the predominantly black city began asking for it to be removed.
In recent weeks, Black Lives Matter demonstrations have swept the nation and communities are tearing down Confederate monuments and flags. In Camden on Thursday, protesters beheaded and smashed a statue of Christopher Columbus even after city officials agreed to remove it.
Now activists are once again calling for the removal of the Bradley statue in Asbury Park.
A petition addressed to the city's governing body notes that Bradley "chose to promote racism in order to protect his own economic interest by segregating the Asbury Park Boardwalk, thereby institutionalizing racism."
"James A. Bradley’s actions put in place segregationist policies that are still affecting us today. The economic disparity that exists between the West and East side of our city is a direct result of these racist policies," the petition, signed by more than 2,400 people on Saturday, says. The petition was posted by local activist Randy Thompson.
"Although we recognize that this is our history, this statue is an affront in a city, which prides itself upon being progressive," the petition says. "Our city can lead the way as we did in legalizing same sex marriage and calling for the legalization of marijuana. We can be bold in addressing the persistent racism that exists in certain aspects of our culture. The first step in doing so is to remove this statue that represents a dark period in our past and an ideology unworthy of honor."
Past efforts to remove the statue, which was erected in 1921 in front of Convention Hall and the Paramount Theater, have been opposed by the Asbury Park Historical Society, which in 2017 noted that the land for the park had been donated by Bradley, who they described as "flawed but brilliant."
"Although he was a visionary in many ways, there can be no doubt that our city's Founder, like so many people of his day (he was born in 1830), was shortsighted and wrong in his advocacy of segregation," the Historical Society argued in 2017. "Mr. Bradley's planning of a great little city will never erase the hurtful positions he espoused or the words he spoke. Like all of us, he too had feet of clay. Yet he never waged a traitorous war against the United States of America, never condoned slavery, or 'owned' another human being."
In the 1890s, Bradley, who was a newspaper publisher and mayor of the city, banned black service workers from sitting on the boardwalk pavilion. He also established segregated bathing hours and banned black people from other facilities.
The petition notes that Southern officials cited Asbury Park's policies to bolster their arguments for segregation.
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