Beach body: Cape May shows off its scrapbook of an historically Black beach

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“I was a beach kid. Couldn’t wait to head to the beach. Always in the water,” said artist Chanelle René, born in West Cape May and who frequently visited relatives while growing up in the 1980s.

“My mom would take me, or one of my uncles, but my question was: Why do we go to this beach?” she said. “My mom answered, ‘This is where we go.’”

René’s mother grew up on Grant Street Beach in Cape May. So did her grandmother. In the early 20th century, this beach was segregated, designated exclusively for Black people, the policy imposed such that its racial identity remained entrenched for generations.

“We could go to any beach we wanted to in Cape May at that time, but if I was taken to the beach, more times than not my mom would see an old classmate, a family friend, or other family members who you knew,” she said. “You were gonna bump into people that you know.”

West Cape May native Chanelle René has been painting historic scenes of Grant Street Beach since 2022, some based on archival photos from the 1930s and 40s, others based on her own imagination. Her work is featured in ”Line in the Sand: Segregated Beaches in Cape May and Atlantic City,” (Emma Lee/WHYY)

  • January 31, 2024
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