Outdoor Afro and REI Co-op Title

Black Oases

A celebration of outdoor spaces across the country that have long been safer havens for Black people to find joy in nature.
Outdoor Afro Logo

A still lake in Wisconsin. A stretch of beach along South Carolina’s coast. A busy recreation outpost in Colorado. For decades, these locations, among several others, have been safer places for Black people in America to live and enjoy leisure time. Each place brings its own history, meaning and abundance of Black joy.

Celebrating and inspiring Black connections and leadership in nature is core to the mission of Outdoor Afro, a national not-for-profit organization that reconnects Black people with the outdoors through education, recreation and conservation. Outdoor Afro's Founder and CEO Rue Mapp now enters a new chapter, launching a for-profit business, Outdoor Afro Inc. Building on a 13-year relationship between Outdoor Afro and REI, the for-profit business and the co-op co-created a hike collection to solve for unmet needs in the outdoors for Black communities.

Outdoor Afro Inc. intentionally selected eight places it calls Black Oases—that represent the outdoor possibilities that Black communities in the United States have long created and sustained—to highlight as part of the collection. The Black Oases design is featured on a bandana, t-shirt and water bottle.

“Today, Outdoor Afro represents and is a celebration of these safe havens,” says Mapp. “Even in a Jim Crow Era, these sites demonstrated that Black people were still determined to create recreational opportunities. Each paved the way for outdoor industry positions and fueled successful local economies around outdoor recreation.”

Read on to learn more about the history and legacy of each Black Oasis.

Outdoor Afro Inc. and REI Co-op co-created a collection that celebrates the nature in all of us. Explore the collection.
Black Oases

The Roaring ‘20s represented more than a golden age of culture following the perilous years of the Spanish Flu pandemic and World War I. For Black people in America, it represented a time of innovation, including when it came to leisure. Chicagoan businessmen Roger Ewalt and E.C. Regnier founded the Lincoln Hills resort near Denver in 1922, and from there, their legacy unfolded.

Group ready for a hike sitting on hill
Denver Public Library Special Collections, ARL-10

Spanning more than 100 acres of land, Lincoln Hills rose as a Black resort area created in response to segregation. Visitors of all ages traveled there to hike, camp, swim and practice outdoor skills like cooking over an open fire. Two sites within Lincoln Hills were of particular significance: Winks Lodge and Camp Nizhoni. The former was a stomping ground for Black entertainers like Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, who would visit the lodge when performing in Denver. Camp Nizhoni was built in 1927 for Black girls as an answer to local white-only camps.

Girls in river in swimsuits
Denver  Public Library Special Collections, ARL-95

During the Great Depression, Lincoln Hills struggled to survive, and after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and desegregation slowly took effect, fewer Black people came to this area as they gained access to more public lands. But even today, the significance of what began there all those years ago remains clear. It represented the rest and community that Black people wanted for themselves—and the creative ingenuity and entrepreneurial finesse required to make these dreams manifest into reality. Today, the organization Lincoln Hills Cares offers outdoor recreation and education programs to continue the resort’s legacy of diversifying experiences in nature.

Administration building
   Denver Public Library Special Collections, ARL-57

The 46-acre Lake Ivanhoe is the center of a tranquil Black lake community in Wisconsin. It gained recognition in 1926 as a tourist attraction only for Black vacationers when three Black men from Chicago—Frank Anglin, Bradford Watson and Jeremiah Brumfield—established one of the state’s first Black-founded communities around the lake.

Illustration of a fish swimming in a river with trees in the background
Illustration by Kevin Tudball

Paying tribute to Black people was an intentional focus of Lake Ivanhoe: Some streets in the area are named after Black luminaries like Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass. Days there were spent fishing, swimming and exploring the woods. After the stock market crash of 1929, Lake Ivanhoe’s draw as a cultural gathering spot started to decline until after World War II, when Black families returned to live there year-round.

Two children in a wooden boat
Courtesy of Janet Alexander Davis

Today, Black people represent about 9 percent of the community, but there are those committed to remembering its significance. Wisconsin’s Historical Society recently gave it a historical marker to commemorate its meaning in the state.

A long-term lease agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service paved the way for Feather River Camp to open in 1924. It's located in Oakland, California, known for having a rich Black history, and many generations of Black campers and nature lovers have gathered here to splash into swimming holes, tube Spanish Creek, hike, gather around campfires and sleep under the stars.

Illustration of two tents by a river with trees in the background
Illustration by Kevin Tudball

Mapp is among those generations of recreationists. As a child, she began visiting Feather River during the summers at an art camp surrounded mostly by other Black teenagers. She later became a camp counselor at Feather River. Mapp’s experiences at the camp mirrored her family’s love of the outdoors when she was growing up, one that has continued with her own children. “My dad was a true outdoorsman who transformed our 14-acre farmland in California into a family reunion space to build fellowship, farm, bike ride and play sports like tennis and basketball,” she said. “We need these reminders of what we’re able to achieve in nature—whether for rest or recreation. These locations offer past examples of Black land ownership and the possibilities in what we can recreate for our local communities to sustain over time.”

Michigan’s “Black Eden” is in an unincorporated community in Yales Township, in the northwest corner of the state. White investors established the Idlewild Resort Company in 1912, assuming an all-Black resort area during the Jim Crow era could be a major draw. Word spread to Black people from the major metropolitan areas of New York, Chicago and Detroit, about what was at the time the third resort created for only Black people.

Two women standing in a lake
Robert Abbott Sengstacke / Contributor

Black intellectuals like Madam C.J. Walker, W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams visited Idlewild Beach as a place to connect with others—a reprieve from segregation in most public places in the early 20th century. Idlewild Beach’s reputation as a vacation destination and cultural epicenter rose as visitors and residents gathered to fish, boat, network and attend performances by the likes of Etta James and B.B. King.

A group sitting on the steps of the Wild Club House
Robert Abbott Sengstacke / Contributor

Over the years, Idlewild became less popular as a destination, as desegregation opened up more of the country for Black recreationists to explore. Today, a few hundred residents call Idlewild home and many sites where Black people previously purchased land and owned businesses have fallen into disrepair.

A man and a woman in a boat
Robert Abbott Sengstacke / Contributor

But in recent years, efforts to preserve this historical area have intensified with the 2003 opening of the Idlewild Historic and Cultural Center. In 2009, Idelwild received grant funding for restoration projects, including a dock that’s already being used for kayak lessons by the Chicago Idlewilders nonprofit. New events like an international film festival and a camping music festival aim to draw young Black people to Idlewild and take pride in its history and future.

A woman and man standing next to a horse
Robert Abbott Sengstacke / Contributor

Black people have gathered for restorative vacations on the island of Martha’s Vineyard since the 1800s, specifically at Inkwell Beach in the town of Oak Bluff. Inkwell was originally a pejorative term that white residents gave the beach, but Black vacationers soon reclaimed it as their own.

A group of people relaxing on the beach
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Dr. Teletia R. Taylor and descendants of Geraldine A. Taylor, Proprietor, "Taylor's Playfair"

Dubbed the “Black Hamptons” due to its popularity with wealthy visitors, this enclave formed during the late 19th century, when Black people typically journeyed to the north of the island and built their own cottages. Most have now been converted into bed-and-breakfasts and inns, including the notable Inn at Shearer Cottage, which has been around for more than 100 years. Inkwell Beach remains a popular spot for new generations of Black vacationers. “I don’t have to catch my breath here,” Skip Finley, whose family has vacationed there for five generations, told Vox. “It’s the freest place I’ve ever been.”

A man and two children standing by the beach
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Dr. Teletia R. Taylor and descendants of Geraldine A. Taylor, Proprietor, "Taylor's Playfair"

Off the coast of South Carolina in the northern end of Myrtle Beach lies Atlantic Beach, which has been affectionately nicknamed the Black Pearl since the 1930s thanks to its history as a welcoming place with an abundance of Black-owned businesses. Due to Jim Crow laws and segregation, it was illegal for Black people to wade in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean on Myrtle Beach proper. In response, Black people created their own haven north of Myrtle Beach where they opened restaurants, night clubs, hotels and other small businesses.

A group standing in front of a sign labelled Atlantic Beach
Town of Atlantic Beach

This place became a refuge where wading in the water didn’t come with the threat of harassment, arrest or deadly violence that were realities elsewhere. Vacationers could enjoy open-air dancing, R&B performances and large events like an annual fish fry when they weren’t enjoying the shore. Because of its location along the coast of South Carolina, many of the first folk who visited and opened businesses were descendants of Gullah Geechee people, Africans indigenious to West Africa who were enslaved until the late 19th century.

A group at a celebration event
Town of Atlantic Beach

Desegregation beginning in the 1970s changed the thriving community of Atlantic Beach as vacationers explored new destinations; the area entered a decline and many businesses closed. In recent decades, efforts to preserve the rich heritage and history of Atlantic Beach have been at the forefront of the minds of Black residents and visitors. Black Bike Week gathers Black bikers from all over the country for Memorial Day weekend every year, and the town hosts an annual First Friday Gullah Geechee Fest. The Town of Atlantic Beach recently received a National Trust for Historic Preservation grant to support a planned public walkway, which will highlight its history and legacy at public beach entrances.

A group of women standing on the bach
Town of Atlantic Beach

The barrier sea islands lining Georgia’s coastline collectively span 100 miles and are known as the Golden Isles, a name that comes in part from early colonizers’ expectations of riches in the area but also the region’s natural beauty. But Sapelo Island has a grander historical significance for Black people.

An illustration of a wooden cabin amongst trees
Illustration by Kevin Tudball

Sapelo Island is home to America’s largest and most intact population of Gullah Geechee people. Their culture has made a huge impact in the South and on the island: Their cuisine, based on foodways like fishing and cultivating Sea Island red peas, has far-reaching influences on Southern cooking. Their handmade crafts like sweetgrass baskets and quilts are made using techniques passed down for generations and designed from nature itself. And annual festivals throughout the South, including the Sapelo Island Cultural Day Festival, continue to celebrate Gullah Geechee arts, language and culture.

Wallace Quarterman in profile claps his hands
Wallace Quarterman in profile claps his hands. GHS 1349-PH-179-3002-02. Walter Charlton Hartridge, Jr. collection. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.

After emancipation reached the island, many Gullah Geechee residents came to own homes in the island community of Hog Hammock. Today, many of their descendants still live there and continue to fight to preserve their community against developers and sea-level rise due to climate change.

Wallace Quarterman and Margarest MacIntosh
Wallace Quarterman and Margaret MacIntosh.GHS 1349-PH-179-2998-01. Walter Charlton Hartridge, Jr. collection. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.

In response to the segregation of public beaches in the U.S., which remained until the 1960s, Black people began traveling to Sag Harbor on New York's Long Island to carve out a space of their own. These beach communities—the subdivisions of Azurest, Sag Harbor Hills and Ninevah Beach—attracted Black professionals and creatives, many of whom purchased properties in the area.

A group relaxing on a beach
Coutesy of  Donnamarie Barnes

For generations, Black visitors and residents, as well as Indigenous residents primarily descended from Montaukett people and the Shinnecock Nation, could relax on the beach, dine together and raise their families there. Black residents of Sag Harbor continue to keep this legacy alive through art and historical preservation.

Children playing in the ocean
Courtesy of Barnes Family Archive