Once known as “the Black Eden of Michigan,” Idlewild was a thriving African American resort community founded in 1912. From roughly 1920 to the mid-1960s, Idlewild was one of the premier holiday venues for African Americans.
In the early 20th century, middle-class African Americans had few options for a holiday away from home. Jim Crow laws made it virtually impossible for African Americans to vacation at “white” resorts. Seeing the business opportunity, four land developers established the Idlewild Resort Company (IRC).
The IRC organized trips for African 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 African 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 African American families found other vacation venues. Today, not much is left of the once-iconic resort.