Idlewild was founded in 1912. During this period, a small yet clearly distinguishable African American middle class– largely composed of professionals and small business owners – had been established in many urban centers, including several in the American Midwest.
Despite having the financial means for leisure travel, racial segregation prevented them from recreational pursuits in most resort destinations in the region. Idlewild is small town in Yates Township, located just east of Baldwin in southeast Lake County, a rural part of northwestern lower Michigan.
During the first half of the 20th century, it was one of the few resorts in the country where African-Americans were allowed to vacation and purchase property, before discrimination was outlawed in 1964 through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The surrounding area is within Manistee National Forest. Called the "Black Eden of Michigan", from 1912 through the mid-1960s, Idlewild was an active year-round community and was visited by well-known entertainers and professionals from throughout the country.
At its peak, it was one of the most popular resorts in the Midwest and as many as 25,000 would come to Idlewild in the height of the summer season to enjoy camping, swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, roller skating, and night-time entertainment.
The Idlewild African American Chamber of Commerce, founded in 2000 by John O. Meeks, continues to promote existing local businesses and seeking new ones. It is also striving to attract more visitors to the area, with events and other strategies, in hopes of resuscitating the once lively town.
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