Dr. Ronald Stephens
Dr. Ronald Stephens, the foremost authority on the history of Idlewild and author of two books about the community, will be speaking on Sept. 22, at 12:30 p.m. in West Shore Community College’s Center Stage Theater and at 7 p.m. in room 364 of the Arts & Sciences Center. There will be a reception and book signing at 2 p.m.
Stephens recently published his second book on the topic entitled “Idlewild; The Rise, Decline, And Rebirth of a Unique African American Resort Town,” which is published by the University of Michigan Press.
White land developers founded Idlewild, in 1912, which became one of the nation's major vacation destinations for middle-class African Americans. Forty years later, as Idlewild transitioned from a site for the Talented Tenth to the Summer Apollo in the 1950s and 60s, it drew thousands of vacationers annually, hosting the era's premier entertainers, including The Four Tops, Della Reese, and Jackie Wilson.
With the successes of civil rights legislation and the resulting expansion of recreation options, Idlewild suffered social and economic decline. During the 1980s it became a struggling retirement community in the midst of financial and political crises.
“Despite these developments, the scholarship focusing on Idlewild as a viable black institution has been given limited attention,” states Stephens. “During my presentation, I will focus on two major questions regarding the history and significance of the resort. First, why is the history of Idlewild, a largely ignored discussion in the literature on black institutions in the United States, important? Secondly, what lesson can we learn from studying black institutions such as Idlewild?”
Prior to joining Purdue University, Stephens was associate professor and chair of African American Studies, and director of the African American Research and Service Institute at Ohio University. Specializing in 20th century African American history and culture, Stephens earned a B.A. and M.A. in Speech Communication from Wayne State University, as well as a M.A. and Ph. D. in African American Studies from Temple University.
Stephens is a former member of the West Shore Community College faculty.
Stephens’ presentation is being held in conjunction with the opening of a new exhibit from the Michigan State University Museum that consists of photographic interpretive banners and a reproduction of an Idlewild history quilt by Michigan quilter Deonna Todd Greed.
The exhibit, titled “Welcome to Idlewild; the Black Eden of Michigan,” was a collaborative project by residents and scholars of Idlewild and will be on display in the Manierre Dawson Gallery until mid-November.
Author: Thomas Hawley | Executive Director of College Communications & Community Engagement