By Tom DeSeno
Let me solve America’s current war on statues. Not just weigh in – solve it.
Whether or not to remove a statue should be governed by the “doctrine of subsidiarity.” What is subsidiarity? The doctrine holds, “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need.”
In other words, problems are best solved by those closest to the problem.
As a northern Yankee, I don’t know much about southern antebellum culture, nor do I see regularly confederate statues. The folks in the south on both sides of that issue do. So let the townspeople in each town decide what to do with General Lee. If the sense of one town is to keep it, then keep it. If the town next door wants to get rid of it, then trash it. Remember – nothing lasts forever, because of politics. If you don’t like how your town council voted, you can vote them out, organize public opinion against them, or move to the town next door that made a better decision. See? Problem solved. The people closest to the problem govern themselves. Real 10th Amendment Federalism. Vive la liberte!
Asbury Park has been through this before. Remember when a bunch of people from another state came in and insisted we keep painted on the Palace an ugly, perverse, nightmare-inducing clown named Tillie? I killed Tillie. Now look how much better Asbury has gotten since I did. You’re welcome.
Let’s talk about James Adam Bradley, Asbury Park founder and the Jim Crow of the North. If you know Asbury Park, then you know the infamous “east/west split.” The railroad tracks were a racial color line, with whites and tourists to the east, black people to the west (“as well as Italians, Turks, Germans, and several varieties of the genus tramp.”)[i]
If this racial divide went away 100 years ago with the death of founder Bradley, it might not matter. But Bradley’s legacy of segregation never left and exists today. It is a constant gnaw on the people today and comes up in every election. Even at the recent “Stand Against Hate (unless its a cis white male, then go ahead and hate him) Rally,” there was still a theme of solving Asbury’s geographic, black/white racial divide. So it matters. Bradley still matters, because he still has dead hand control of the segregated City By The Sea.
Let’s take a look at why Bradley is known as “the Jim Crow of the North.”
Bradley first walked on these beaches when it was nothing but brush, accompanied by a black man in his employ. Bradley reminisced that it was like Robinson Caruso being with his “man Friday.[ii]
After buying the land Bradley named his borough after Francis Asbury, America’s first circuit-riding Methodist Bishop, a revivalist who embraced Romanticism and its rejection of Rationalism and the Enlightenment.
With a quick influx of white tourists as well as blacks fleeing north after Southern Reconstruction failed them, Bradley created the east/west split to ensure racial segregation in Asbury Park. Blacks were expected to live only in the west (where Bradley refused to even extend the sewer system), work in his hotels in the east, then after work go right back home.
Yet blacks naturally wanted to enjoy the sublime leisures of beach living, causing the Daily Journal to note that blacks began “intruding themselves in places designed only for guests, monopolizing the promenade, pavilion, and seats, and not content with that, they come on excursions by the train load, and some days the whole beach is given up to them.”[iii]
Bradley himself lamented that his white tourists were leaving, because they could not “endure the crowds of Africans infesting every promenade and public space, day and evening with their presence.”[iv]
Bradley then kicked his Jim Crow policies into higher gear. He appointed a beach superintendent, whose job it was to enforce modesty in bathing attire, but was actually a pretext to remove black bathers from the beach.[v] Bradly also tried “clock-time” segregation, where he only allowed black people on the boardwalk after business hours.[vi]
Thereafter Bradley tried to assuage blacks by building amenities to be used just by them; Asbury Park’s own version of separate but equal. This plan having not worked well, Bradley finally restricted all blacks from the beaches and its buildings. Enforcement was by way of signs, written by Bradley himself as President of the Law and Order League, and security personnel.[vii]
It was noted of Bradley, “[h]is arguments in favor of segregation of some kind and even the exclusion of African Americans from the beach and boardwalk altogether ranged from an admonition that the white Asbury Park paying visitor should be made a ‘welcome guest’ by the City’s ‘colored servants’ who should cater to tourists’ prejudices by making themselves scarce, to the position that the boardwalk and beach were his private property, and if an African American presence there resulted in his losing money, a secular mortal sin in the Gilded Age, he was legally entitled to end it. Civil Rights, according to Bradley, touting a thinly veiled Social Darwinist ideology, were ‘an impossibility,’ so the ‘colored servants’ might just as well get used to life as it was and always will be.” [viii]
So very committed to his own perception of a white City that Bradley had the City Council pass an ordinance disallowing ‘visibly ethnic musicians’ from playing in boardwalk bands,[ix] evidently spawned by the Founder having to suffer through the indignity of encountering a band that had an Italian maestro.
Bradley himself freely defended his segregation. “Responding to a question from the Daily Journal as to whether or not black citizens possessed the right to enter into the public spaces occupied by white vacationers, Bradley explained that ‘people who make their living out of Asbury Park’ are excluded from the rights of those whose presence is paid for, because as both ‘colored citizens’ and as ‘servants,’ their presence lessens the attraction to white tourists and therefore threatens the economic value of the community. ‘The question of color or rights,’ Bradley informed, was not ‘to enter into consideration.’ In their cities and in their homes, Bradley pointed out, ‘they do not associate with their servants and they do not desire to do so when they arrive at the seashore.”[x]
For white tourists, Bradley’s segregation worked for them. As noted by historian David Goldberg, “For the northern white elite, Asbury Park’s racial division, particularly the distinct ways in which it visibly and vocally flaunted its emerging Jim Crow persona, became one of the town’s main attractions and its primary selling point to prospective tourists.”[xi]
This racial segregation was accepted even by the white progressive community, who thought that conferring some civil rights to blacks, though not all, was quite enough. As written in that day’s newspaper, “We allow them to vote, to have full standing and protection of the law,” the Journal instructed, “but when it comes to social intermingling then we object most seriously and emphatically.” As one white resident more succinctly explained, “This is a white people’s resort and it derives its support from white people.”[xii]
This concept of money over rights was noted by none other than Asbury Park writer Stephen Crane who wrote in a daily paper at the time, “The bonafide Asbury Parker is a man to who a dollar, when held close to his eye, often shuts out any impression he may have, that other people possess rights.”[xiii] Crane’s observations got him fired and run out of town.
Bradley’s efforts were so successful he became a segregation rock star, with interested newspapers all over the country following the novelty of a northern Jim Crow. “A white southern congressman protesting public school integration in Georgia in 1892 routinely referenced the passions expressed by black and white citizens in Asbury Park to support a bill legalizing segregation in public schools.”[xiv]
Southern segregationists might have admired Bradley, but couldn’t do what he could. Bradley was not only the keeper of government as Mayor, he also owned or controlled much of the land. More than that, he controlled the Board of Trade, which Bradley kept so powerful that it called the shots, not the City government. This consolidated power had his critics referring to him as “King James I.” When Long Branch started taking tourists from Asbury due to horse racing, Bradley ran for State Senator, won, lobbied others, and cast the deciding vote to end gambling at Monmouth Park, closing the racetrack.[xv] Such power allowed him his Jim Crow segregation, without fear of reprisal. His total control kept Asbury Park a teetotaling and dry city, where forms of recreation were prohibited, and “decency and family values were paramount.”[xvi]
Yet blacks continued the fight, as the New York Times found Asbury Park’s segregation left “every drop of blood under black skin smarting with indignation.”
The man who led the fight was Reverend John Francis Robinson, Pastor of the African Methodist Church on Asbury Park’s West Side.[xvii] A constant fighter against racial segregation though demonstration, speeches and organizing, Rev. Robinson is a man who should have a statue in Asbury Park. His following quotes epitomize the man, and I intended to read them at Asbury Park’s most recent rally, had I been invited (were I not banished from Asbury Park for truth-telling like Stephen Crane):
“Attack all class legislation and race distinction where the statutes of citizenship and of good behavior introduce the common right. The man who advocates the separation of whites and blacks from the equal enjoyment of civil prerogatives solely on the grounds of color places himself in a position to be questioned as to his patriotic proclivities and the genuineness of a Republic form of government. We colored people fought for our liberty some year ago, and we do not propose to be denied it at this late date. We will not be dictated to in this manner by Mr. Bradley or any other man. The colored man contributes largely to the wealth of this country, including the town of Asbury Park, and we are here to stay. We fought to save the Union as the white man did. This country is for the whites and blacks alike, including even the beach of Asbury Park.”
Asbury Park blacks being hardy and resourceful, while they fought for equal rights in the East, built quite a neighborhood themselves in the West. They rejected the stiff, puritanical rules of Bradley and looked more like an Asbury Park that was yet to come:
By the 1890s a shadow resort had emerged in West Park. An array of public amusements developed, some of which were patterned after those at the parent resort. West Park hotels, for example, sponsored the usual round of parlor amusements, including card parties and dances. There were even fancy dress balls where gentlemen arrived in evening dress with their ladies gorgeously arrayed in gowns of bewitching sweetness. Some hotels also sponsored “gambling dens.” In addition, pool halls and drinking establishments prospered in the district. Representing recreational patterns at odds with those at Asbury Park, grog shops and gambling dens contributed to West Park’s local reputation as a disorderly and lawless neighborhood. Newspaper reports on Asbury’s “delectable suburb” stressed gambling and drunkenness as well as marital disputes and infidelity. It was also reported that the mixed population of the district resulted inevitably in disputes which kept local magistrates busy.[xviii]
Despite the valiant efforts of Rev. Robinson which foretold the eventual coup that rid Asbury of Bradley’s rule, racial segregation at the railroad tracks, the notorious east/west split, continued along with its indignities. Progress has been made through steps not strides, as every Asbury Parker can tell you that once blacks were allowed on the beach, for decades they were limited to the section where the sewer pipe emptied into the water. While those obvious humiliations are gone, left today are still grievances like redevelopment concentration on the beach and not the West Side.
To keep the statue, some people say we wouldn’t have Asbury Park without Bradley, so the statue notes him just for that. That’s pure applesauce! You don’t have Bradley’s Asbury. He would hate today’s Asbury. He didn’t allow liquor and deed restricted every property to be used only as he wanted. In 1902 Asbury had to sue him to gain control of the beach and boardwalk. The only thing left of Bradley is black segregation.
Some say tearing down statues should be limited to Confederates who fought a war against America to preserve slavery. Well, in the 1800’s the Indians formed a Confederacy, owned slaves, declared war on America and teamed up with America’s enemies in the war of 1812, which saw the burning of the White House. Raising those facts should end that argument, because nothing scares certain Americans more than having to criticize a group of people who aren’t white. Let the law of subsidiarity govern the keeping of all monuments, be they Confederate, Indian or the Jim Crow of Asbury Park.
So I say tear down the statue of James Bradley. In its place, erect a statue of me, but only because we need to act quickly, before triCityNews publisher Dan Jacobson erects a monument to himself that blots out the sun.
What counts most is the people of Asbury Park letting the City Council know their view of it, particularly the West Side black community, so the council can act.
[i] Shore Press, July 27, 1894
[ii] James A. Bradley, “A History of Asbury Park,” Asbury Park Journal, 1882.
[iii] The Daily Journal, “Too Many Colored People,” July 17, 1885.
[iv] The Daily Journal, “It Must Be Stopped,” July 30, 1886.
[v] Goldberg, David, The Retreats of Reconstruction, Race, Leisure and the Politics of Segregation at the New Jersey Shore, 1865-1920
[vi] Goldberg, David, The Retreats of Reconstruction, Race, Leisure and the Politics of Segregation at the New Jersey Shore, 1865-1920
[vii] Shore Press, “Bradley Statement,” July 8, 1887
[viii] Joseph G. Bilby, Harry Ziegler, Asbury Park, A Brief History
[ix] Joseph G. Bilby, Harry Ziegler, Asbury Park, A Brief History
[x] Goldberg, David, Greetings from Jim Crow, New Jersey: Contesting the Meaning and Abandonment of Reconstruction in the Public and Commercial Spaces of Asbury Park, 1880-1890, citing various articles from the Daily Journal.
[xi] Goldberg, David, Greetings from Jim Crow, New Jersey: Contesting the Meaning and Abandonment of Reconstruction in the Public and Commercial Spaces of Asbury Park, 1880-1890
[xii] Goldberg, David, Greetings from Jim Crow, New Jersey: Contesting the Meaning and Abandonment of Reconstruction in the Public and Commercial Spaces of Asbury Park, 1880-1890
[xiii] Berryman, John, Stephen Crane, A Critical Biography, 1982
[xiv] New York Times, “The Color Line In School: An Effort to Draw It Sharply in Georgia,” July 26, 1887
[xv] Uminowicz, Glen, Sport in a Middle Class Utopia, Asbury Park, New Jersey, 1871-1896 (1984)
[xvi] National Geographic, When was the Jersey Shore Virtuous? July 2016
[xvii] Bill Brown, the Material Unconscious, American Amusement, Stephen Crane, and the Economies of Play, 1996