LIVINGSTON COUNTY, Mich. – It’s the thrill of the sport that these skiers love, never mind the cold weather, for members of the Jim Dandy Ski Club -- the nation’s oldest Black ski club right here in Detroit.
“The Jim Dandy Ski Club is a club that was started in 1958 by three young African-American men,” said Jim Dandy Ski Club member Miles Maxey. “They went to ski, and when they went up north, the treatment and the accommodations that they got or were supposed to get, they were turned away. They had reserved rooms, and when they got there, they said they didn’t have any reservations. It was due to racism. This was the 50s.”
Those three men were Reginald Wilson, William Blount, and William Morgan. The name Jim Dandy came from a popular song at that time.
“It was called Jim Dandy To The Rescue by LaVerne Baker. “They started the Jim Dandy Ski Club because again, particularly at the time, due to racism, to come together in groups made it a lot safer and a lot more comfortable. Also, it helps in the cost.”
“When I was back in grade school, uhh, yeah. We were at one of the local mountains, and I was called the n-word.”
Maxey has been a Jim Dandy member for nearly 30 years now. He grew up in a time when whites dominated the sport. Fellow ski club member Clotilde Harris had the same experience as Maxey as she grew up hating cold weather.
“Being taught that you don’t like cold weather probably goes back to the slavery days where you didn’t,” Harris said. “The slave owners didn’t want the slaves to run north, so they told them it was too cold to run north, and it just got into the brains of all the people who were going north.”
Today, the Jim Dandy Ski Club boasts about 200 members. The oldest member, Helen Gentry, started the year after it was founded and even knew the men who created it. She’s now in her 90s, and she sees how the sport has come a long way since she originally joined.
“The equipment is better,” said Gentry. “The slopes are groomed well. The lifts when we started, there were no ski lifts, we used tow ropes.”
And now, these ski club members ski not just here in Michigan but all over the country and the world. And yes, everyone is invited.
“We’re inclusive,” Maxey said. “We have Caucasian members that are a part of our club, and heck, they speak of our club more than we do.”
The Jim Dandy Ski Club has several events year-round, including what’s called the blackout, where all of the members get together at Mt. Brighton for a full day of skiing and camaraderie.