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A small Wisconsin town is honored as the state’s first Black-founded community NPR
LAKE IVANHOE ,Wis. — Peter Baker says he will never forget his first visit to Lake Ivanhoe. It was 1966. He was 9 years old and his friend brought him up from Chicago on a fishing trip. They caught dozens of fish, mostly bluegills and crappies.
“We went home and I ran in the house with all these fish and I showed my mother, ‘We were up there at Lake Ivanhoe, and it was all Black!’ ” said Baker, now 66. “And the first thing she said is, to my father, ‘Ernest, we’re going up there next week.’ “
The tiny subdivision of Lake Ivanhoe is nestled beside a quiet lake, just six miles east of Lake Geneva. The Bakers bought a house on Tuskegee Drive and moved the family up from Chicago. Peter spent his days fishing, swimming and running through the woods. During the era of sundown towns, where African Americans were not welcome after dark, Baker said Lake Ivanhoe was a refuge.
“We literally could sit in the middle of the roads at night time and watch the stars and talk and play,” Baker said. “The freedom was unbelievable.”
It wasn’t until decades later that Baker learned that feeling was the whole idea when the community was dreamed up a century ago as the first Black-founded community in Wisconsin. Now, a small group of local residents is working to ensure this history is recognized after nearly being lost.
Recent years have brought a national reckoning over whose history is preserved in our statues and monuments. Of Wisconsin’s 600 historical markers, just seven commemorate the history of the state’s Black residents. And none recognize the history of Hmong, Hispanic or LGBTQ communities.
Like several states, Wisconsin is trying to confront this legacy of racism by adding nearly 40 historical markers to recognize the history of marginalized communities.
Lake Ivanhoe will be among the first.
Lake Ivanhoe was the vision of three prominent Black men from Chicago — Jeremiah Brumfield, Frank Anglin and Bradford Watson.
The trio recognized growing racial tension as a result of the Great Migration that brought millions of African Americans north. As communities merged, Black families faced restrictive covenants and redlining that barred African Americans from certain neighborhoods, and even violence from white people intent on keeping them out.
In 1919, riots broke out in Chicago when a Black boy was killed by white attackers on a beach and the police wouldn’t make an arrest.
Amid this racial unrest, Brumfield, Anglin and Watson wanted a safe place to take their families on vacation. White Realtors had popularized Idlewild, Michigan as a resort for Black families, but it was too far a drive from Chicago. So they decided to build their own.
They drew up plans and sought financial backing from both white and Black investors. In 1926, they purchased an 83-acre farm on Ryan Lake in Walworth County. A white real estate agent named Ivan Bell agreed to broker the deal, and the lake was later renamed in his honor.
They carved out lots, named the streets after famous Black figures — Dunbar Boulevard, Phyllis Wheatley Drive, Douglass Avenue — and placed ads in Chicago newspapers.
On a hill overlooking the lake, they built a large pavilion where jazz great Cab Calloway performed on their opening night in 1927.
The resort was an immediate hit, drawing families from across the region to purchase lots and enjoy the outdoors. There were fishing contests, concerts, prize fights and beauty pageants.
But sales plummeted when the stock market crashed in 1929. The pavilion was dismantled and the unsold lots went into foreclosure.
In 1934, Edward Sternaman, a white football player for the Chicago Bears, purchased the unsold property at Lake Ivanhoe. Intending to turn the area into a white resort, he put up fences blocking residents from accessing the park and beach.
Founder Brumfield, an attorney, helped file a civil lawsuit. And in 1934, a Walworth County judge sided with the community, saying the beach and parks of Lake Ivanhoe were to be held collectively and kept open to everyone. Sternaman’s fences came down and he left the area for good.
Following World War II, families like the Bakers rediscovered Lake Ivanhoe and slowly made it a year-round community.
Andrew Kahrl teaches history and African American studies at the University of Virginia. Recently he has been working with the National Parks Service documenting sites of African American outdoor recreation. He said Lake Ivanhoe is one of many towns across the country that provided a safe haven for African Americans.
“They were not just a byproduct of exclusion, but were also an assertion of freedom by African Americans seeking not just to find places of recreation for themselves, but places where they could form community,” Kahrl said.
Over the years, the demographics of Lake Ivanhoe have shifted and now it has mostly white and Hispanic residents. African Americans are only 9 percent of the population.
And the story is similar for many historically Black towns across the country. But as they disappear, so do their histories.
Atiya Martin, co-founder of a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm and former Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Boston, has said Black settlements existed in present-day sites like the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and even Plymouth, Massachusetts.
“Elementary school kids go there in period costumes and people are kind of reliving what life was like during those times. But no one ever talks about the fact that there was a Black town there as well,” Martin said.
That’s why Peter Baker has been working with the state to get a historical marker placed there. The process requires an extensive application with supporting historical documentation that can often take years to compile.
Recently, he has been getting help from Katie Green, whose family has owned a home 6 miles away in Lake Geneva since the 1970s. But Green had never heard of Lake Ivanhoe until a few years ago, when a friend’s grandmother mentioned it.
“I had asked all my friends that I grew up with in Lake Geneva. I asked all my current neighbors, ‘Have you heard of Ivanhoe?’ ‘Nope. Nope.’ Nobody that I knew,” Green said. “So I started to dig into it.”
That’s how she met Baker. Now they often spend their Saturdays combing through old documents and newspapers, trying to find past residents. They’ve started Facebook and Instagram accounts to help spread the word.
One of the people they found was Janet Alexander Davis. She and her family came to Lake Ivanhoe in the 1950s on fishing trips.
“We would sometimes rent a cabin,” Alexander Davis said. “I remember one time I caught what they call a dogfish. That was the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen — ugly and big! But I was so proud of that fish,”
Alexander Davis hasn’t been back to Lake Ivanhoe since childhood, but she’s excited about the marker.
“It’s proof that we were treated differently in this society and continue to be — that we had to find our own way and have our own things because we couldn’t just go where we wanted to go, to shop, to live,” she said. “So what I felt there was free.”
Towns like this are a reminder of racism’s reach outside of the South. Wisconsin is among the most inequitable places for African Americans. Recognizing Black towns as historical places is one way to confront this legacy.
As the former town manager of Tullahassee, Oklahoma’s oldest surviving all-Black town, Cymone Davis is invested in preserving places like Lake Ivanhoe.
She has been working with Atiya Martin to map Black towns and settlements across the country. But she said preserving them as historic places can overlook their potential as vibrant, contemporary places.
Through her group Black Towns Municipal Management she works to strengthen and invest in towns like Lake Ivanhoe, with an eye toward the future.
“How do you reconcile the past? And then how do you include for the future? What does that even look like if it is a possibility to continue to rebuild a predominantly black community?” said Davis.
For Peter Baker, the marker is a good start. He’s planning a dedication ceremony. He wants to invite past residents, have a pig roast and big band music, like the old days.
He said recognizing this community now is the best way to ensure future generations find refuge, too.
“I plan on being here for a long time, hopefully for the rest of my life. And I just hope it’s always a place that African Americans can feel safe in,” Baker said. “I literally am at peace here. There’s nowhere else I’d like to be.”
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
To address legacy of racism, Wisconsin is erecting dozens of historical markers that recognize the contributions of marginalized communities. One of them will highlight the state’s first town founded by Black people. Diane Bezucha takes us there.
DIANE BEZUCHA, BYLINE: Lake Ivanhoe is a small subdivision nestled beside a quiet lake.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER LAPPING)
BEZUCHA: Peter Baker first visited here in the 1960s when he was 9, and his friend brought him up from Chicago on a fishing trip.
PETER BAKER: So we went home, and I ran in the house with all these fish, and I showed my mother. We were up there in Lake Ivanhoe, and it was all Black. And the first thing she said is to my father, Ernest, we’re going up there next week (laughter).
BEZUCHA: The Bakers bought a house on Tuskegee Drive and moved the family up from Chicago. During the era of sundown towns where African Americans were not welcome after dark, he says Lake Ivanhoe was a refuge.
BAKER: We literally could sit in the middle of the roads at nighttime and watch the stars and talk and play. The freedom was unbelievable.
BEZUCHA: Baker later learned that was the whole idea when the community was conceived a century ago as the first Black-founded development in Wisconsin. Following nationwide race riots, African American leaders from Chicago bought the land in 1926 to build a Black resort town. It was an immediate hit, drawing families from across the region and performances at a main pavilion by acts like Cab Calloway.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAB CALLOWAY SONG)
BEZUCHA: The stock market crash in 1929 hit hard. Andrew Kahrl teaches history and African American studies at the University of Virginia. He says it’s one of many towns across the country that provided a safe haven for African Americans.
ANDREW KAHRL: They were also an assertion of freedom by African Americans seeking not just to find places of recreation for themselves but places where they could form community.
BEZUCHA: Over the years, the demographics have shifted, and now Lake Ivanhoe has mostly white and Hispanic residents. That’s why Peter Baker has been working to get a historical marker, often spending his Saturdays with friends combing through old documents and newspapers trying to find past residents.
KATIE GREEN: Have you ever seen this?
BAKER: These guys fished on Lake Ivanhoe?
GREEN: Yes. Ice fishing. Look at this. Here, I’ll read.
BEZUCHA: One of the people he found was Janet Alexander Davis, who came to Lake Ivanhoe in the ’50s on family fishing trips.
JANET ALEXANDER DAVIS: One time, I caught what they call a dogfish. That was the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen. But I was so proud.
BEZUCHA: She hasn’t been back since childhood, but she’s excited about the new marker.
ALEXANDER DAVIS: We had to find our own way and have our own things because we couldn’t just go where we wanted to go, to shop, to live or to buy. So I felt there was free.
BEZUCHA: Towns like this are a reminder of racism’s reach outside of the South. Wisconsin is among the most inequitable places for African Americans. Recognizing Black towns as historical places is one way to confront this legacy. But advocates say it can overlook their potential as vibrant, contemporary places. Cymone Davis works to preserve and strengthen towns like Lake Ivanhoe through her group Black Towns Municipal Management.
CYMONE DAVIS: How do you reconcile the past and then how do you include for the future? What does that even look like if it is a possibility to continue to rebuild a predominately Black community?
BEZUCHA: For Peter Baker, the marker is a good start, and he’s planning a dedication ceremony with past residents. He says recognizing this community now is the best way to ensure future generations find refuge, too. For NPR News, I’m Diane Bezucha in Madison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Written by: NPR
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14jun8:00 pmCupcakKe at Cactus ClubZed Kenzo • bdwthr • DJ DR!PSweat
Elizabeth Eden Harris, known professionally as Cupcakke, is an American rapper from Chicago, Illinois. She is known for her hypersexualised, brazen, and often comical persona
Elizabeth Eden Harris, known professionally as Cupcakke, is an American rapper from Chicago, Illinois. She is known for her hypersexualised, brazen, and often comical persona and music although she has also made songs with themes supporting LGBTQ rights, female empowerment, and autism awareness.
(Wednesday) 8:00 pm
15jun7:00 pmMeshell Ndegeocello at Turner Hall Ballroom
Acclaimed GRAMMY-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello makes her Blue Note Records debut with the June 16 release of The Omnichord Real Book, a visionary
Acclaimed GRAMMY-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello makes her Blue Note Records debut with the June 16 release of The Omnichord Real Book, a visionary and deeply jazz-influenced album that marks the start of a new chapter in her trailblazing career. Following her 2018 covers album Ventriloquism, Meshell returns with an album of new original material that taps into a broad spectrum of her musical roots. The Omnichord Real Book was produced by Josh Johnson and features a wide range of guest artists including Jason Moran, Ambrose Akinmusire, Joel Ross, Jeff Parker, Brandee Younger, Julius Rodriguez, Mark Guiliana, Cory Henry, Joan As Police Woman, Thandiswa, and others.
The Omnichord Real Book is introduced today by the expansive lead single “Virgo,” the mind-altering 8-minute centerpiece of the album which features Meshell on vocals, key bass, and keyboards, Younger on harp, Rodriguez on Farfisa organ, Chris Bruce on guitar, Jebin Bruni on keyboards, drums by Abe Rounds, Deantoni Parks, and Andrya Ambro, and additional vocals by Kenita Miller and Marsha DeBoe. The Omnichord Real Book is available for pre-order now on Blue Note Store exclusive color vinyl, black vinyl, CD, and digital.
“It’s a little bit of all of me, my travels, my life,” says Meshell. “My first record I made at 22, and it’s over 30 years from then, so I have a lot of stored information to share.” Reflecting on the impact that the forced stillness of the pandemic lockdown had on her, she says “I must admit it was a beautiful time for me. I got to really sit and reacquaint myself with music. Music is a gift.”
“This album is about the way we see old things in new ways,” Meshell explains. “Everything moved so quickly when my parents died. Changed my view of everything and myself in the blink of an eye. As I sifted through the remains of their life together, I found my first Real Book, the one my father gave me. I took their records, the ones I grew up hearing, learning, remembering. My mother gifted me with her ache, I carry the melancholy that defined her experience and, in turn, my experience of this thing called life calls me to disappear into my imagination and to hear the music.”
(Thursday) 7:00 pm
Turner Hall Ballroom
1040 Ve. R. Phillips Ave.
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