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Black Eden: The Idlewild Community

Lewis Walker
Ben C. Wilson
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.14321/j.ctt7ztc95
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  • Book Info
    Black Eden
    Book Description:

    Black Edenchronicles 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 Edenprovides 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-87013-966-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    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 those black rural communities whose history has not yet been adequately chronicled, Idlewild, Michigan, is one, and thus this book is an effort to capture the enormous richness of a black experience from which valuable lessons may...

  5. 1 Establishing the Foundations of a Black Resort in Michigan
    (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 a black resort community in the woods of Northwest Michigan at a time when segregation and racism were rampant in every state in the Union.

    The Manistee National forest is 40 miles from the shores of Lake Michigan; roughly 75...

  6. 2 Continuation of a Good Deal
    (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 were visitors from Hawaii and Liberia during the early twenties. According to a 1927 booklet entitledA History of Idlewild,

    … 16,895 lots have already been deeded to approximately 5,630 lot owners. Approximately 3,000 lots are now being bought under contract by … 1,000...

  7. 3 The Popular Place to Be
    (pp. 47-68)

    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 experienced some intragroup tensions as a result of its transformation from a homogeneous community to one that was more heterogeneous in nature. This chapter considers the impact of promotional activities, the various waves of visitors to the resort and their...

  8. 4 An Emergent Black Entertainment Showcase
    (pp. 69-120)

    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, extend the range of their instruments, and internalize positive attitudes toward improvisation. Additionally, the entertainment site has been the place to experiment with new ideas. If the novices’ competence has not matched their confidence, the negative response usually has spurred them to...

  9. 5 Some Intended and Unintended Consequences in the Black Community During the Civil Rights Era
    (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 hampered because of skin color or other such characteristics. Just the opposite, however, has been the practice. The United States has allowed a virulent form of racism to exist for centuries, and it is within this historical context that...

  10. 6 A Snapshot of Idlewild’s Contemporary Social Status
    (pp. 149-168)

    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 be used interchangeably in this discussion of Idlewild. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1979.

    A major problem that the district of Idlewild faces is the fact that it does not have the critical mass (population) or the...

  11. 7 Revitalization: 1960–2000 Activities
    (pp. 169-194)

    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 late 1960s and 1970s, it was not unusual to see ladies in red working deer-crossing areas, tributaries of the Manistee River, and many inland lakes. During the height of the deer season, some panderers bought or rented mobile homes to be...

  12. 8 A Need for a Comprehensive Strategic Plan: Some Suggestions
    (pp. 195-220)

    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 the stagnation and perhaps even the ultimate demise of Idlewild as it is known today. The discussions in this chapter, then, should be of interest to anyone interested in the revitalization of Idlewild.

    Chapter six was a narrative “snapshot”...

  13. 9 An Epilogue for Idlewild
    (pp. 221-238)

    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 everyday lives, these men and women and their children looked forward to spending their summer vacation at the black resort, isolated in a rural area that was at first completely devoid of motels, grocery stores, restaurants, barbershops, beauty salons,...

  14. APPENDIX 1: Sample Coupons
    (pp. 240-240)
  15. APPENDIX 2: Scott’s Letter of Endorsement
    (pp. 241-241)
  16. APPENDIX 3: Curry’s Letter of Endorsement
    (pp. 242-242)
  17. APPENDIX 4: Some Early Pioneers in Idlewild
    (pp. 243-243)
  18. APPENDIX 5: Purchase Agreement Letter
    (pp. 244-244)
  19. APPENDIX 6: Sheet Music: “Idlewild”
    (pp. 245-246)
  20. APPENDIX 7: Sheet Music: “(Idlewild) Duett Chorus: Tango Dance”
    (pp. 247-248)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 249-260)
  22. Index
    (pp. 261-268)