WestSouthwest: Idlewild, Hidden in Michigan's Forest, Once Black Entertainment Mecca

Feb 18, 2019

Credit WMUK

It'll be 107 years ago this year that black resort Idlewild was founded by white developers in upper Michigan. Wealthy African-Americans spent their summer vacations there during the days of segregation. Soon it became the go-to place for the hottest entertainers of color to perform, like Duke Ellington. Detroit-area native Carlean Gill, now 80, was a showgirl with the Idlewild Review at the Paradise Club in the '60s and '70s. She will share her memories on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the Richmond Center for the Visual Arts at Western Michigan University. The panel discussion takes place after a screening of a documentary about Idlewild.


The history of Idlewild is chronicled in the "Whatever Happened to Idlewild?" documentary. Coy Davis used research by Ben Wilson, WMU professor emeritus of Africana studies, to make it. Davis and Wilson will join Gill on the panel discussion.

The film will be shown at 6 p.m. on Feb. 20 at the Richmond Center for the Visual Arts, with the discussion following at 7 p.m. and facilitated by Michelle S. Johnson, a professor of African-American and African studies at Western.

Idlewild is located in the Huron-Manistee National Forest about an hour outside the beachfront town of Ludington, and about three hours from both Detroit and Chicago. Its beginnings as a resort for blacks began in 1912 when developers started selling them plots of land.

Things started to pick up by the '20s. The heyday was from the'40s to the '60s. By the 1970s, the popularity of Idlewild waned as blacks could go to whites-only establishments once legal segregation became outlawed.

Hear a shorter interview here. 

WestSouthwest is produced by WMUK, the public radio station licensed to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. It airs Mondays & Thursdays at 7:34 a.m., 9:34 a.m. & 4:20 p.m. You can subscribe to the WestSouthwest podcast through Apple itunes and Google. There you can leave a rating and write a review.