Spotlight On: Heather Perez

Heather Perez

Heather Perez, special collections librarian at Stockton, holds the book she helped come to life, "Images of America: Chicken Bone Beach."

Galloway, N.J. – Heather Perez, special collections librarian at Stockton, just completed her fifth year at the University, but she has had a passion for preserving Atlantic City's rich history far longer than that. Below, she discusses a recent collaboration with Henrietta Shelton of the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, Inc. and Ronald Stephens of Purdue University that resulted in the publication of the book, "Chicken Bone Beach." The piece explores the space along the Atlantic City shoreline that local families and African American vacationers occupied from the 1900s-1960s. 

We hope that the book shines a light on the historical segregation of leisure spaces like the beach in Atlantic City and that it preserves the rich legacy of the Black community in Atlantic City
Heather Perez
"Before coming to Stockton, I was the archivist at the Atlantic City Free Public Library. In addition to learning about all things Atlantic City history, I digitized many photographs about Atlantic City history and worked with some incredible mentors and community leaders, like Shelton and Ralph Hunter of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, to promote knowledge about Atlantic City past and present," Perez said. 

Given her role at Stockton and previous ties to Atlantic City, it seems only fitting that Perez would be part of the "Chicken Bone Beach" project, which took about six months of content curation. 

Her access to archival materials at Stockton was also an asset. "We were even able to use some of the photographs from the Stockton University Richard E. Bjork Library's Special Collections because our collections have photographs relating to Black leisure in Atlantic City - like the John Henry "Pop" Lloyd Committee's Records about Negro League Baseball star Pop Lloyd," noted Perez.

This was also not her first experience in supporting a book publication. Perez worked with Tom Kinsella and the South Jersey Culture and History Center at Stockton to publish Elizabeth Alton's memoir, “Beauty is Never Enough.” 

She also helped with the research end of several Atlantic City books, including “The Northside,” “Golden Beauty Boss,” and a previous photo essay on Chicken Bone Beach. 

Learn more:

"Chicken Bone Beach" Book Signing

1-2 p.m.

Sunday, June 4

Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University

When asked if something particular stood out to her during this process, Perez said, "We were able to obtain copies of some letters from 1928 that had never been published before, which were from the Boardwalk hotel owners to the Mayor of Atlantic City petitioning for the creation of a segregated beach in front of what is now Boardwalk Hall. It was disturbing to read, as it explained the business owners' attitudes toward Black visitors to the city and toward their own employees - as most of their workforce was from the African American community."

Unearthing stories like these are profoundly important in preserving history. "We hope that the book shines a light on the historical segregation of leisure spaces like the beach in Atlantic City and that it preserves the rich legacy of the Black community in Atlantic City," Perez reflected. 

Proceeds from the book will go toward programming for the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, Inc. and their jazz music education program with the children of Atlantic County.

When asked what Perez loves most about her role here at Stockton, she beamed, "I enjoy introducing students to archival research - showing them our unique special collections and watching them make amazing discoveries about local history and their understanding of our environment. I especially like working one-on-one with interns and with classes who come in for projects."

Story and photo by Mandee McCullough