Academic Historian

Ronald J. Stephens is Professor of African American Studies and an affiliate of the American Studies Program in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University. Stephens’s research interests focus on black leisure and recreation, urban history, and African American biography. Owing to his national reputation as an Idlewild scholar, he is author of Idlewild: The Rise, Decline and Rebirth of a Unique African American Resort Town (University of Michigan Press, 2013); Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan (Arcadia Publishing, 2001); African Americans of Denver (Arcadia Publishing, 2008), and lead co-editor with Adam Ewing of Global Garveyism (University Press of Florida, 2019). Dr. Stephens is also author of groundbreaking local studies on the Garvey movement in the United States. He has published peer-reviewed articles in the Journal of Black StudiesBlack Scholar, and Black Diaspora Review, 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 (Milwaukee’s Black Nouveau series), and Historic African American Towns (a High Noon Productions 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- )

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 opportunity afforded older black … 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 several “all-Black cast” … Read MoreMurray’s Dude Ranch, Apple Valley, California (1922–1960)

John W. Roxborough (1892-1975)

John Roxborough is best known as the manager of Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion of the world from 1937 to 1949. For more than two decades Roxborough served as Louis’ partner, adviser, and mentor. Roxborough, a former basketball player turned professional gambler, often helped youth … Read MoreJohn W. Roxborough (1892-1975)

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

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 Americans. The area was originally settled in the Colonial era … Read MoreChowan Beach, Hertford County, North Carolina (1926-2004)

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

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 near Myrtle Grove Sound, was acquired by Alexander and Charity … 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 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 for local black professionals and a place of accommodation for … 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)

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, the small community 250 miles northwest of Detroit would not have been recognized as the most famous … Read MoreThe Arthur Braggs Idlewild Revue (1954-1964)