The story of Idlewild: ‘Black Eden of Michigan’

It's a community on the west side of the state once known as "Black Eden." Idlewild, located between Cadillac and Big Rapids, became a safe, recreational haven during the Jim Crowe era when among other things. Blacks, even those with means, could not easily buy property. But when legalized discrimination ended in 1964, Blacks could buy property anywhere they wished.

It’s a community on the west side of Michigan once known as “Black Eden.”

Idlewild, located between Cadillac and Big Rapids, became a safe, recreational haven during the Jim Crow era when among other things, Black people, even those with means, could not easily buy property. But, when legalized discrimination ended in 1964, Black people could buy property anywhere they wished.

The location of Idlewild was ideal -- it was close enough to prominent cities, like Chicago and Detroit, but far enough away and concealed by wooded area that Black community members felt safe.

Starting in 1915, many Black families around the Midwest would visit Idlewild. Many working professionals and activists brought their families to Idlewild for the summer. The area had beaches, boating and other summer activities.

By the late 1960s, Idlewild became a hot spot for some of America’s most popular Black entertainers. It was considered the largest Black resort in the nation.

After 1964, when Black residents found more options for travel and property ownership, many started visiting other areas, like Florida or casinos on the East Coast or Las Vegas. Integration marked the end of Idlewild’s heyday, but only because Black people didn’t feel as much as a need to be invisible.

But the Idlewild story lives on.

(Watch Paula Tutman’s full feature story on Idlewild in the video player above.)

Idlewild. (Wikipedia Commons)
Idlewild. (Wikipedia Commons)

About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.