Once known as “the Black Eden of Michigan,” Idlewild was a thriving resort community founded in 1912. From roughly 1920 to the mid-1960s, Idlewild was one of the premier holiday venues for Black Americans.
In the early 20th century, middle-class Black Americans had few options for a holiday away from home. Jim Crow laws made it virtually impossible for them to vacation at “white” resorts. Seeing the business opportunity, four land developers established the Idlewild Resort Company (IRC).
The IRC organized trips for Black Americans from Detroit, Chicago, and elsewhere the Midwest to visit Idlewild. They marketed the areas as a hunters’ paradise with beautiful lakes and excellent fishing. The marketing worked, and soon plots of land were being sold in droves.
Many prominent Black Americans purchased land, including Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Madame C.J. Walker. A waterfront hotel and club were established followed by eateries, nightclubs, and infrastructure. Some of the biggest names in music headlined the clubs. The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Della Reese, Jackie Wilson, and Brook Benton all performed in Idlewild.
After segregation ended, Idlewild went into decline. Tourism dropped off sharply as Black families found other vacation venues. Today, not much is left of the once-iconic resort.
Know Before You Go
The Idlewild Historic and Cultural Center is open Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The center has set up a nice driving tour of the community with stops posted. This self-guided tour will take you by the remains of the Flamingo Club, the Paradise Club, and some of the past houses of the more prominent members of the community.