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Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Brighton Gardens: The Idlewild Inspired Community You’ve Never Heard Of

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Image credit: Mr. Smith's Forgotten Community/Jake Neher, WDET

We have preserve some level of our history,” says publisher, wealth advisor and Brighton Gardens resident Andre Watson.

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You may have heard about Idlewild, the resort community up north often called “Michigan’s black Eden.”

But there are smaller communities throughout the state that were also founded as places where black professionals could live and vacation away from the state’s urban centers. 

It was a place for people to go and feel comfortable.” - Andre Watson, Brighton Gardens resident

One of those places is the Brighton Gardens Lake Colony just outside Brighton and less than an hour from Detroit.

Detroit Today Host Stephen Henderson digs into the history and present state of the Brighton community, which is in danger of fading away and being lost from memory. Henderson talks to the author and publisher of a new book on the neighborhood.

Click on the player above to hear about Brighton Gardens, the getaway for black professionals.


Jake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Guests

  • Marion L. Cornett, author of “Mr. Smith’s Forgotten Community,” which looks at the history and current threats to the Brighton Gardens Lake Colony, a community founded in 1919 to provide a space for professional African American Michiganders to live together.

Cornett, who is a white woman, says she was initially hesitant about taking on the project since it would mean writing about a community of which she was not a part.

My culture is completely different,” she says and explains that she took some time to decide if she was the right person to write the story.  

Cornett says the Mr. Smith in the book’s title is Bernie Smith, a Wayne County employee who was a socialite of sorts with prominent Detroit families. Smith was the one who founded the old property in Brighton more than a century ago. After he found the land, “he went back to Detroit and started looking for professionals to come and live there on the weekends or part time,” says Cornett.

  • Andre Watson, publisher of “Mr. Smith’s Forgotten Community,” a wealth advisor at Watson financial group and Brighton Gardens resident, says when he moved to the community more than a decade ago he started hearing stories about the neighborhood back in its heyday.

I would hear these great stories, and I thought the story was beautiful,” he says.

After realizing the rich history of his community, Watson says he felt compelled go out and start gathering information.

A lot of people bought two, three or four lots because the lots were so small it was hard to put a cottage on it. It was a place for people to go and feel comfortable,” says Watson. He adds that he hopes the book will preserve and spread the history of Brighton Gardens to future generations. 

We tried to find someone to write the book who was going to make sure the stories were told and nuanced properly for the community they were reflecting.” 


Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

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