History of African American resorts
Fox Lake:Angola, Indiana
The Fox Lake resort community was developed specifically for African Americans in the 1930s. Similar to other ethnic groups, African Americans chose to build their own institutions because they enjoyed the fellowship with their family, friends and colleagues.
These enclaves were not established for us by us simply because we were rejected by Jim Crow. Today, in contrary to the myth that blacks rather integrate than celebrate and preserve their heritage, Fox Lake is still a successful black community. Its traditions are still maintained by many second- and third-generation owners, who occupy a large number of the cottages.
Other African American resorts included Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; Idlewild in Michigan; and American Beach in Florida.
Fox Lake was also a recreational destination for young African Americans who lived within driving distance. They came to swim at the beach, dance and socialize. During World War II, black troops stationed at Baer Field in Fort Wayne were invited to the resort during their free weekends. Numerous annual meetings of black fraternal organizations, churches and alumni groups were also held at the resort.
Fox Lake provided black families with a place of their own where they could escape the heat of the cites and enjoy the pleasures of summertime activities. The historic district contains 32 relatively modest lake cottages, most of which were constructed before World War II.
Fox Lake was the first and only resort catering to black families established in Indiana, and one of only a few in the Midwest. Similar resorts had been developed previously around lakes in Michigan, which offered numerous amusements and big-name entertainment. In 1924, a group of white businessmen purchased land along the south side of Fox Lake, and established the Fox Lake Land Company that developed and then subdivided the land to sell to black families.
By the mid-1930s a dozen cottages had been built on randomly scattered lots, which were initially rented until all were sold within a few years. The original farmhouse on the property was converted into a small hotel, a barn was renovated into a restaurant and dance hall, and a bathhouse and pier were constructed (none of which remain today).
Word of mouth about the community was spread by the land company and early property owners, who were anxious that the resort succeed and touted the joys of this tranquil oasis where African Americans were welcome.
Other black families began buying lots and constructing their own cottages and rental properties throughout the 1930s. Most Fox Lake vacationers came from Indianapolis, although many others came from Toledo, Detroit, Chicago, and further cities, as well as smaller Indiana towns such as Marion and Fort Wayne.
1. Highland Beach, Maryland
Founded by Charles Douglass in 1893; summer home of elite blacks from Washington, D.C. including Blanche K. Bruce, John Mercer Langston, Robert and Mary Church Terrell, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and later, E. Franklin Frazier and Robert Clifton Weaver (first sec. of HUD). Remains active today.
2. Gulfside Assembly, Waveland, Mississippi
Founded in 1923 by Bishop Robert E. Jones of ME Church of New Orleans. Summer campground and resort for generations of African Americans living in the Gulf states and Deep South. Hosted meetings of SNCC and other civil rights organizations during 1960s. In decades following desegregation, it struggled to survive and was forced to sell hundreds of acres to meet high property taxes. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, it was eyed by coastal real estate developers, who worked with local officials to acquire and redevelop the property. Following Katrina, Gulfside has struggled to rebuild and its future remains uncertain.
3. American Beach, Florida
Founded in the 1930s by a black-owned insurance company. Flourished from the 1940s to the 1960s, as numerous black professionals purchased lots and built summer cottages there. In recent decades, it has experienced a steady erosion of its property base, as landowners have been pressured or forced to sell to developers. Today, it’s a shell of its former self, surrounded on both sides by large-scale hotels and resorts. It was the subject of an excellent film, “Sunshine State” and the book, “American Beach.”
4. Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Black settlement in Oak Bluffs can be traced to the 1890s, but the site took off in the 1930s and 1940s, and remains the summer home of elite black professionals across the U.S., including Spike Lee, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates and Vernon Jordan.
5. Idlewild, Michigan
The areas was founded by a pair of white developers from Chicago in the 1910s who sought to capitalize on the growing demand by middle-and upper-class African Americans in Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis for summer vacation resort of their own. Today efforts are underway to revitalize the quiet, aging community of mostly year-round residents
6. Freeman Beach, Wilmington, North Carolina
Family-owned farms here were converted into a commercial resort in the 1940s. The beach thrived as a summer destination for working blacks denied access to segregated beaches in coastal towns. The area experienced a decline after massive hurricanes in the 1950s, along with efforts by local politicians and developers to drive them out of business. Currently, it is the subject of a lawsuit that aims to force the displacement of the Freeman family and the liquidation of its assets as a result of its status as heirs property.
7. Sag Harbor, New York
The area began attracting black vacationers from Brooklyn, N.Y. in the 1940s, particularly the historic Eastville community. In the late 1940s, black professionals and intellectuals began to purchase land and build summer home there. Today the area attracts well known political, sports and entertainment figures, and is the subject and title of a 2009 book by Colson Whitehead.
8. Bruce’s Beach, near Los Angeles, California
Bruce’s Beach was one of the few beaches in Southern California in the early 1900s that was open to African Americans. Charles and Willa Bruce built a black beach resort there, the only resort in Southern California that allowed Blacks. The City of Manhattan Beach condemned Bruce’s Beach and forced out the black community in the 1920s and 1930s. The City Project organization worked with Bernard Bruce, the grandson of the beach’s founder, to change the name of the ocean front park back to Bruce’s Beach in 2007.
9. Buckroe Beach, Bay Shore and Mark Haven, Virginia
Buckroe Beach, near Hampton, Va., is a historically Black Beach and an important venue for various festivals that attract African Americans. Other Virginia legacy beaches founded or frequented by African Americans include Bay Shore and Mark Haven.
10. Gullah Sea Islands, Coast of Georgia and South Carolina
The region consisting of broad islands and flat coastal plains extending miles inland called “Lowcountry” was originally inhabited by Native Americans and became home to African slaves and their descendants. The terms “Gullah Islanders” or “Gullah People” describe descendants of African slaves born on these islands.