In the early 1900s, the town of Idlewild in northeastern Michigan was a vacation resort for prominent African-Americans. The community, known as Michigan’s “Black Eden” from 1912 through the mid-1960s, was said to have gotten its name because of idle men and wild women. This area was a resort unlike any other in the United States, and was basically built on segregation.
It was common for the summers to consist of at least 20,000 visitors. Some even decided to build homes, including prominent professionals W.E.B. Dubois and Madam C.J. Walker. Numerous black entertainers performed in Idlewild, entertainers, including Della Reese, Al Hibbler, Bill Doggett, Jackie Wilson, T-Bone Walker, George Kirby, The Four Tops, Roy Hamilton, Brook Benton, Choker Campbell, Lottie “the Body” Graves, Aretha Franklin, and B.B. King.
Black Eden was one place black people could visit without having to worry about not being served or receiving racist remarks. The community was filled with nightclubs, after-hours joints, hotels, motels, beauty shops, barber shops, and plenty of great restaurants.
The good life came to an end with integration. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act opened up other resorts to African-Americans, Idlewild’s boomtown period subsided. Although the community continued to serve as a vacation destination and retirement community, the visitors were not flocking to the area as they had in prior years.
The Idlewild African American Chamber of Commerce was founded in the summer of 2000 for the purpose of promoting existing local businesses and for attracting newer ones to the Lake County area.
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