City of Dreams: The Atlantic City Experience blog

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Thank you for visiting our blog about a new Atlantic City Free Public Library project, "City of Dreams: The Atlantic City Experience." The library received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to implement this project, which will focus on digitizing the library’s Atlantic City Heritage Collections related specifically to African American history in the city. Click here to read our announcement about the project.

Please continue to visit this blog as we provide updates leading up to the fall 2022, when we will unveil the project to the public.

The City of Dreams: the Atlantic City Experience project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

  CLICK HERE to view the City of Dreams materials now accessible online  

Digital repositoryCity of Dreams project unveiled to public
Oct. 17, 2022

The Atlantic City Free Public Library held an event Oct. 17 at the Stockton University Atlantic City campus to introduce its City of Dreams: The Atlantic City Experience project and new Atlantic City Heritage Collections Digital Repository. The items digitized as part of the City of Dreams project are the first additions to the digital repository.

The digital repository includes collections highlighting African American organizations, churches, policemen and firemen, Chicken Bone Beach, Club Harlem, Negro League baseball and other sports teams, families, dissertations, videos, oral histories and so much more. Click the link in the first paragraph or the image to the right to browse the digital repository.

BacharachGiantsWatch the public unveiling Oct. 17

Sept. 30, 2022

The Atlantic City Free Public Library will unveil its new digital repository — highlighting African-American history in the city — Monday, Oct. 17, from 1-3 p.m. at the Stockton University Atlantic City campus in the Fannie Lou Hamer Event Room. Parking will be available in the surface lot located directly behind Stockton’s John F. Scarpa Academic Center.

Those who can't make it in person can watch the event virtually.

As part of City of Dreams, the library’s Heritage Collections staff added approximately 12,000 items — including 7,000 documents and 4,800 photographs — to the digital repository. The digital repository also includes collections of videos, audio, scrapbooks and artifacts on an internet platform for unlimited access. It will be available to the public beginning Oct. 17 at the library website and The Atlantic City Experience website.

Cheatham Collectioncheatham2
May 16, 2022

We are close to finishing scanning the William K. Cheatham Collection. Between this collection and the work our staff has done on the James L. Usry Collection, more than 2,000 documents, pictures and other items have been scanned as part of the City of Dreams project.

Mr. Cheatham, who was the library's longtime Board of Trustees president, passed away in June 2021. In addition to his work as the Library’s Board of Trustees president, Cheatham served many other organizations, including Big Brothers Association, United Way of Atlantic County and Atlantic County Board of Public Transportation, Municipal Utilities Authority Board, CRDA and Atlantic City Shade Tree Committee.

The image here includes Mr. Cheatham, second from right, when he ran for Second Ward Councilman.

Usry boxesThe Usry Collection: By The Numbers
March 23, 2022

We have completed digitizing the extensive James L. Usry Collection. The collection included:
  • 372 certificates and awards
  • 674 photos
  • 22 VHS tapes converted
  • 9 audio reels converted
  • 42 Speeches
All of those items will be available for the public later this year through The Atlantic City Experience Research Library Digital Repository. The digital repository will provide a new level of online access to the library’s Atlantic City Heritage Collections.

We're now working on digitzing the William K. Cheatham Collection. Mr. Cheatham cared deeply about Atlantic City and served on the boards for many organizations, including as the Atlantic City Free Public Library's longtime Board of Trustees president.

Usry with RensMayor Usry: Born 100 years ago today!
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022

Mayor James Leroy Usry
Feb. 2, 1922- Jan. 25, 2002

Born in Athens, GA, this educator, mayor, professional athlete and longtime Atlantic City resident was affectionately known as "Big Jim." He was a 6'4" - a giant of a man who never raised his voice. Jim was a classroom teacher and school principal, rising to the position of Assistant Superintendent of the Atlantic City public schools, and a visionary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. School Complex. Usry graduated from Lincoln University in 1946 with a B.A. and received a Masters Degree in 1971 from Glassboro State College (Rowan University). A U.S. Army Military Policeman (MP), he was one of the first African-American professional basketball players to don the uniform of the Dayton Rens from 1948-49, which helped desegregate basketball in 1950. Usry was the first black mayor elected in Atlantic City in 1984, and served two terms. After leaving politics, Usry kept a low profile, working as a substitute teacher. Above all, he was a positive role model for three generations of Atlantic City children who knew him as "Pop Pop" Usry.

VHS tapes stackConverting VHS tapes to digital
Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022

We use Clearclick VHS2DVD Wizard to convert the VHS tapes to digital within the Atlantic City Heritage Collections. We convert the tapes within the archive because VHS tape life expectancy varies from one VHS tape to the next. In general, VHS deterioration of 10-20 percent occurs over a period of 10-25 years. To convert the tapes, all we need in the archive is a VCR, the wires to connect the VCR to a computer, and a VHS tape. The time it takes to convert a tape depends on how long the video is. For example, if a video is two hours or 30 minutes long, that is how long it will take to convert.

Mayor James Usry’s Collection has more than 30 VHS tapes that need to be converted. So far, we have been able to convert six. Some examples of what have been converted are “Mayor James L. Usry Swearing in Ceremony and Inaugural Ball - 07-01-86” and “Usry's Election Video.” They are both more than two hours long and in fairly decent condition considering the fact that they are both more than 35 years old. The digital videos will be made available once the digital repository launches later this year.

Noteworthy thank youDamone2
Thursday, Dec. 22, 2021

Kate Rowland, the Digital Archives Assistant, scanned an interesting item the other day. It is a typed letter from singer Vic Damone to Mayor James Usry. He is thanking Mayor Usry for officiating his wedding to actress Diahann Carroll.

It is dated January 20, 1987, and signed by Damone and Carroll. This letter, as well as many other items from this collection, will be uploaded in the Library’s digital repository.

Dear Mayor Usry:

     We wish to thank you for officiating at our wedding on January 3rd and for sharing with us the solemnity and happiness of the occasion.

Diahann and Vic Damone

First items scannedJacqueline Silver Morillo and Kate Rowland

Friday, Dec. 16, 2021

A day after receiving the new scanner, staff began scanning the first African American collection as part of this project: the Mayor James L. Usry Collection. More than 33 boxes on the history of Atlantic City’s first Black Mayor, the Usry Collection entails his speeches, photographs, certificates and plaques, memorabilia, laws written, scrapbooks, videos and many more items.

Mayor Usry was elected in 1984 and served two terms. During his tenure, he led a redevelopment project in the Northeast Inlet, and created many daycare centers, housing complexes and youth centers throughout the city. He used his position as mayor to fight for the housing, education and health of the community, standing up to the wealthy casino and hotel owners whose interests usually seemed to count for more than those of the city's residents.

Pictured are Library Archivist Jacqueline Silver Morillo (foreground) and Digital Archives Assistant Kate Rowland (background).

Scanner unboxingUnboxing 12.15.21

Thursday, Dec. 15, 2021

Image Access visited the Main Library to unbox and instruct the library’s archival staff on how to use the new ScanTastik Bookeye 5 V2 Book Scanner that was acquired for this project. The book scanner will allow staff to scan books, photographs, scrapbooks, 3-D objects, maps, and other items of the 30-plus African American collections that will appear in the digital repository.