Coney Island on Their Mind

“Hot town, summer in the city/ back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.”


So go the opening lines of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit song of 1966. In the lyrics the hot, muggy character of a New York summer is wonderfully captured. For decades to escape meant to get to Coney Island and the 5 cent BMT fare it cost to ride there. Once an actual island, Coney Island had been linked to Brooklyn, and the rest of Long Island, since the 1850s. It had been a getaway from city summers since the 1820s and a variety of attractions had been “amusing million(s)” of City denizens since the 1890s. The years immediately following World War II were the amusement park’s and beach facilities’ apogee of popularity before decline and decay set in in the 1950s.

      A competitor with Ebony magazine, Our World celebrated post war prosperity and leisure and African American participation in society. Editors of the magazine promoted images and narratives of a new American black cultural norm. In the summer idyl they present here, more than a decade before Marilyn Monroe battled the updraft from a subway vent, a brown damsel is distressed by a bawdy clown, and the characters in the photographs seem almost to have stepped out of a Reginald Marsh painting onto the nitty gritty of the beach. It is a moment of war end’s innocence, more than a decade away from the strife and friction of the 1960s.

~ Rodger Birt

For more on Our World, and its publisher, John Preston Davis, visit:


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