The town of Idlewild, Mich. was once a thriving vacation community and a prime destination for the Black elite. The community, once known as “Black Eden,” enjoyed success in the 20th Century and new efforts to revive the town to its former glory have been underway for years.
Idlewild was established in 1912 by opportunistic white developers looking to exploit the pockets of the Black middle class. Realizing that many Blacks were barred from vacation resorts and hotels, the developers brought the land in Western Michigan and built upon the sprawling lakefront acres. It wasn’t until 1915 that Idlewild became popular, after prominent surgeon Dr. Daniel Hale Williams became its first resident, living there until his death in 1931.
Dr. Williams’ presence attracted more of his ilk, and the notoriety of Black Eden grew. As Jim Crow laws ruled the land, Idlewild was one of the places that the Black Elite and entertainers alike could find equal footing. W.E.B. Du Bois, Madame C.J. Walker, Cab Calloway, B.B. King, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin and countless others lived and performed at Idlewild.
The town’s greatest successes came between the ’20’s through the 60’s, dovetailing with the civil rights movement. But after 1964, the town began to fall into squalor and became a forgotten gem in the annals of Black history.
There have been several campaigns to return Idlewild to what it once was. There is now an annual music festival and in 2012, the town celebrated with a well-attended centennial event.