Ronald J. Stephens

Academic Historian

Ronald J. Stephens is Professor of African American Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University. He received his Ph. D. from Temple University, and a B. A. and M. As degrees from Wayne State University. Stephens, a Detroit native, is the author of Idlewild: The Rise, Decline, and Rebirth of a Unique African American Resort Town from the University of Michigan Press, Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan from Arcadia Publishing, and co-curator of Welcome to Idlewild, a Michigan State University Museum traveling photographic exhibition (2003-present).

In addition to his publications about Idlewild, Dr. Stephens has published essays about other topics involving African American culture and community studies.  Specializing in twentieth century African American history and culture, Professor Stephens has also worked as a research assistant on Ted Talbert’s award-winning documentary-film Idlewild: A Place in the Sun, and appeared on and been cited in Idlewild: The Real Thing (an edition of Tony Brown’s Journal), Idlewild (an NPR production), Idlewild: Rebuilding Paradise (a Flint’s ABC 12 Special program), Are We There Yet? Americans on Vacation (a History Channel program), Idlewild, Michigan: A Black Historical Resort (on Milwaukee’s Black Nouveau series), and Historic African-American Towns (a High Noon Productions program for Home and Gardens Television).

Carr and Sparrow’s Beach, Annapolis, Maryland (1926-1974)

Carr’s Beach, at one time one of the leading beaches for east coast African Americans, was affectionately called, “The Beach.” Although The Beach no longer exists as a vacation getaway spot, Carr’s Beach and its neighboring Sparrow’s Beach were two of the major Chesapeake Bay … Read MoreCarr and Sparrow’s Beach, Annapolis, Maryland (1926-1974)

Atlantic Beach, South Carolina (1966- )

"Image Ownership: Public Domain" Atlantic Beach, South Carolina was one of the last all-black resorts to be developed along the Atlantic Coast.  Formed two years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act opened beach resorts to all visitors regardless of race, Atlantic Beach never had the … Read MoreAtlantic Beach, South Carolina (1966- )

Murray’s Dude Ranch, Apple Valley, California (1922–1960)

Joe Louis at Murray’s Dude Ranch, 1937 “Image Ownership: Public Domain” Murray’s Ranch, a guest ranch in Apple Valley, California, was unique in that it was owned by and catered primarily to African Americans, and because it served as the set for a number of … Read MoreMurray’s Dude Ranch, Apple Valley, California (1922–1960)

Chowan Beach, Hertford County, North Carolina (1926-2004)

The Chowan Beach Resort, ca. 1945 “Image Ownership: Public Domain” Chowan Beach was an African American playground founded in 1926 when Eli Reid of Winton, in Hertford County, North Carolina, converted an abandoned fishing beach along the Chowan River into a family-oriented resort for African … Read MoreChowan Beach, Hertford County, North Carolina (1926-2004)

Freeman Beach-Seabreeze, Wilmington, North Carolina (ca. 1885- )

Unidentified Visitors, Freeman Beach, ca. 1945 “Image Ownership: Public Domain” Freeman Beach, near Wilmington, North Carolina, was one of two North Carolina beaches available to African Americans in the state during the Jim Crow era.  The beach area, originally 99 acres of underdeveloped beachfront land … Read MoreFreeman Beach-Seabreeze, Wilmington, North Carolina (ca. 1885- )

Buckroe Beach, Hampton, Virginia (1890- )

Buckroe Beach is one of the oldest recreational regions in Virginia. In 1619, the “Buck Roe” plantation was designated for public use for the newly arrived English settlers sent by the Virginia Company of London. By 1637, however, the plantation was converted into a commercial … Read MoreBuckroe Beach, Hampton, Virginia (1890- )

Gotham Hotel, Detroit, Michigan (1943-1963)

The Gotham Hotel, ca. 1955 (Image Courtesy of Ronald Stephens) The Gotham Hotel in Detroit, Michigan was an example of the intersection between legitimate business and illicit enterprise in the Jim Crow era.  The hotel was originally founded to provide a social and business center … Read MoreGotham Hotel, Detroit, Michigan (1943-1963)

Larry Steele’s Smart Affairs (1946-1971)

Larry Steele’s touring production review, Smart Affairs, was the largest black entertainment touring group in the United States from the 1940s through the early 1960s.  Steele’s review, headquartered in Atlantic City, New Jersey, featured up to 40 entertainment acts.  The revue performed in major venues … Read MoreLarry Steele’s Smart Affairs (1946-1971)

The Arthur Braggs Idlewild Revue (1954-1964)

Roy Hamilton and Chorus Girls as Part of the Idlewild Revue (Photo Courtesy of Betty Jo Alvis) Without the kind of night life entertainment that was introduced to Idlewild by Arthur Edward Braggs during the 1950s and 1960s at his Paradise Club in Idlewild, Michigan, … Read MoreThe Arthur Braggs Idlewild Revue (1954-1964)