Watermen's Memorial

Randolph Edward "Sonny" Camper, Sr.
June 1979

Waterman Age 40
Accidential Drowning, Delaware Bay
He worked with Riggins & Robbins Clam Company, with oyster packing companies and was a truck driver for Dagastine's Transfer Company. His mother's brother Kermit Waters also lost his life in an accidental drowning in the Delaware Bay.

Personal Story
By Scarlet Melvina Chin

My uncle, Randolph Edward “Sonny” Camper, Sr. was born in Port Norris, NJ on October 20, 1936 and died on June, 1979.

He was survived by his now deceased parents Charles Amos ”Mule” Camper and Maria Ellen Camper-Ennals and sons Randolph Edward “Randy” Camper, Jr. and Charles Harden.

He attended Brown School and served our country as a Private in the United States Army. He was affiliated with the John Wesley Methodist Church.

His employment history included working for Riggins & Robbins Clam Company, as well as, several oyster packing companies in the area. For years, he was a truck driver for Dagastine’s Transfer Company.

“Sonny” tragically died as a result of an accidental drowning while working as a NJ Delaware waterman. On July 24, 1955, his mother’s brother, Kermit Waters, also lost his life in an accidental drowning in the Delaware Bay.

His parents were part of the exodus of African-American families who participated in the phenomenon called the “Great Migration”. By the end of the third decade of the twentieth century when a massive economic depression slowed the movement north, a half a million African-Americans had abandoned the region of their birth.

By 1930, more than 1.3 million resided outside the South. During that period, the Port Norris, NJ area was considered the “Oyster Capital of the World”. Although the Eastern shore of Maryland is nationally known for its seafood industry, there was a lack of work at that time. Consequently, his parents migrated to the Port Norris area from the Eastern Shore of Maryland in search of employment and to build a more productive way of life. This particular area attracted them because it offered a similar type of seafood industry. They could also utilize the skills they brought with them from Maryland in the way of harvesting and processing oysters, clams and crabs. As time progressed, the Port Norris communities of Shellpile and Bivalve became populated by many families from Maryland, Virginia and other southern states.

Nearly nine decades ago, “Sonny’s” ancestors confronted their challenges with dignity by keeping their eye on the prize. Although they had a limited education, they put their trust in God who provided them with strength and courage to succeed.

Economically, they were able to provide a better lifestyle for their families. They became first-time homeowners, advanced the education of their children, and made a positive impact on the new community that became a home away from home.