We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Black Eden

the Idlewild community

Lewis Walker

Publication Year: 2002

Black Eden chronicles the history of Idlewild, a Michigan black community founded during the aftermath of the Civil War. As one of the nation’s most popular black resorts, Idlewild functioned as a gathering place for African Americans, and more importantly as a touchstone of black identity and culture. Benjamin C. Wilson and Lewis Walker examine Idlewild’s significance within a historical context, as well as the town’s revitalization efforts and the need for comprehensive planning in future development. In a segregated America, Idlewild became a place where black audiences could see rising black entertainers.
     Profusely illustrated with photos from the authors’ personal collections, Black Eden provides a lengthy discussion about the crucial role that Idlewild played in the careers of artists such as Louis Armstrong, B. B. King, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, and Della Reese. Fundamentally, the book explores issues involved in living in a segregated society, the consequences of the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent integration, and the consequences of integration vs. racial solidarity. The authors ask: Did integration kill Idlewild? suggesting rather that other factors contributed to its decline.


Published by: Michigan State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (31.2 KB)
pp. iii-iv


pdf iconDownload PDF (73.3 KB)
pp. v-vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (47.3 KB)
pp. ix-x

IN PREPARING THIS VOLUME, THE AUTHORS ARE DEEPLY INDEBTED TO THE many past and present resorters. They interviewed numerous informants over the years and are truly grateful to them for their powerful voices and knowledge, which helped us immensely in cross-checking assertions by those who have written about the region. The oral tradition provided by these men...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (108.3 KB)
pp. xi-xiii

BEFORE THE ORAL HISTORY IS LOST, THERE IS A NEED TO CHRONICLE THE BLACK towns and rural communities that emerged in various parts of the United States in the aftermath of the Civil War and during the early part of the twentieth century. The black towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Michigan, and other places deserve to have their histories recorded for posterity. Of ...

read more

1: Establishing the Foundations of a Black Resort in Michigan

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 1-28

A UNIQUE SET OF SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCES SET THE STAGE FOR the Idlewild drama. Among them were the drastic overcutting of prime timberland and the shifting of sizeable numbers of black people from the South to the North. The convergence of these two necessary conditions helped establish the foundation on which a special group of men and women built ...

read more

2: Continuation of a Good Deal

pdf iconDownload PDF (649.8 KB)
pp. 29-46

IDLEWILD FROM ITS INCEPTION WAS BOTH NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL IN in scope, and between 1915 and 1927, annual African American visitors to Idlewild increased from a few hundred to five or six thousand. Pioneers came from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, and Canada. Furthermore, it is said that there also ...

read more

3: The Popular Place to Be

pdf iconDownload PDF (825.1 KB)
pp. 47-67

WITH THE ADDITION OF MORE HOTELS, MOTELS, AND BOARDING HOUSES, MORE places to eat, more entertainers to enjoy, and a plethora of other activities, Idlewild's popularity skyrocketed as it became "the place" to be. African Americans arrived in waves at "the place" in the woods in Lake County, Michigan. Over time the character of the resort community changed, and it ...

read more

4: An Emergent Black Entertainment Showcase

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.9 MB)
pp. 69-119

HARRY A. REED, IN HIS ARTICLE ENTITLED "THE BLACK TAVERN IN THE MAKING of a Jazz Musician: Bird, Mingus and Stan Hope," stated that young black musicians have always served a considerable period of an apprenticeship in juke joints and back bars. There they have learned acceptable professional standards and worked to improve their techniques, expand their repertoire, ...

read more

5: Some Intended and Unintended Consequences in the Black Community During the Civil Rights Era

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 121-148

From its very beginning, the United States has been a country replete with contradictions, a place with incredibly wide discrepancies between its preachings and its practices, especially when it comes to racial minorities. A universal tenet in the United States asserts that all citizens will be treated equally, and their rights to the pursuit of freedom and happiness will not be...

read more

6: A Snapshot of Idlewild's Contemporary Social Status

pdf iconDownload PDF (719.9 KB)
pp. 149-167

AS A GEOGRAPHICAL AREA IN MICHIGAN, IDLEWILD IS NOT POLITICALLY EITHER a city, a township, or a village. The concept of "unincorporated community" or "district" more nearly describes it as an entity within Yates Township. In fact, Idlewild as a "district" extends beyond Yates Township into Pleasant Plain Township. However, the terms "community," "district," and "area" will ...

read more

7: Revitalization: 1960-2000 Activities

pdf iconDownload PDF (955.4 KB)
pp. 169-193

When the black middle-class professionals began deserting the resort, many white hunters and fishermen, gamblers, and black pimps and their stables of prostitutes did just the opposite. They pumped a few dollars into the resort.1 However, most of the dollars ended in the hands of pimps and prostitutes from Detroit, Indianapolis, Battle Creek, Chicago, and other places. In the ...

read more

8: A Need for a Comprehensive Strategic Plan: Some Suggestions

pdf iconDownload PDF (945.1 KB)
pp. 195-219

THOUGH THE RESORT HAS AN ENORMOUSLY RICH MUSICAL HISTORY, PLANNING for Idlewild's future will not be well served by any great improvisational jazz session, where things are made up as one goes along. Leaders must think long term; patching things together on a piecemeal basis will not serve the interest of the community in the end. Continued piecework will only ensure ...

read more

9: An Epilogue for Idlewild

pdf iconDownload PDF (631.7 KB)
pp. 221-237

As a community, Idlewild did not become an overnight success; neither was it an overnight failure. In time, after many years of hard work, it became an enormously popular resort, especially for African Americans in the Midwest who were unwelcome at white resorts in the North and legally restricted from attending white establishments in the South. Tired of racism in their every ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (300.1 KB)
pp. 239-247


pdf iconDownload PDF (379.3 KB)
pp. 249-259


pdf iconDownload PDF (229.5 KB)
pp. 261-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780870139666
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870136221

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2002