A Detroit teacher is restoring Idlewild, known to be a historical vacation spot for Black people in the early 1920s and 1930s.
Located about 170 miles northwest of metro Detroit sits Idlewild— a small community comprised of 2,700 acres of lakes and wilderness.
In the first half of the 20th century, the area was known as a thriving Black resort that people would call “The Black Eden.”
Historians say Idlewild was established in 1912 by four white couples who saw an economic opportunity among a growing Black middle class with education and disposable income. Idlewild was only the third resort in America that catered to Black visitors when segregation was in full effect.
In addition to being a safe space for rest and relaxation, it become an entertainment hub, hosting many superstars in the era when African American entertainers could not perform in clubs in the metro.
Big names like Della Reese, Dizzy Gillespie, the four tops, and Aretha Franklin performed there, as reported in WXYZ.
During its prime in the ‘50s and ‘60s, more than 25,000 African Americans would travel from cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Indianapolis would visit during the summer.
Most of Idlewild’s hotels and clubs are no more, but there have been some recent initiatives from state and local leaders that want to revitalize this historic community, including local teacher Maria Lawton Adams.
Lawton Adams became inspired to restore the community after visiting the community in the summer of 2020.
“I started looking at the devastation,” Lawton Adams told WXYZ. “As I was riding, I was just silent because I was like, ‘oh my God.’ I said all the good things that you heard about, and the rich history, and it looks nothing like it. I thought of it like being Beirut – a lot of the houses were about to fall down.”
That’s when she got to work.
She started asking how she could help around the community and was directed to a man named Rambo, who reportedly has lived in the community without heat or water electricity for years. A lightbulb sparked, and Lawton Adams convinced herself that it would be the perfect project for her summer youth employment program.
“I said to myself, I wonder if I talk to the powers that be if the kids could spend their summer up here as opposed to staying in Detroit doing a project,” she stated.
Turns out, she was right about trusting her instincts
She took a total of 25 kids out of metro Detroit to learn about home-building skills, life lessons, and most importantly, giving back to the community.
“We clean up the brush and we paint the houses put boards on them, so people coming into the town and just want to see what Idlewild – it is doesn’t look so bad from the street,” she stated.
The first house she and the youth fixed is Rambo’s,
“They put up new drywall, a kitchen, bathroom, even landscaping outside and when they’re finished, he will get everything down to silverware brand new in his new apartment,” said Lawton Adams.
Lawton Adams and the youth have plans to fix as many houses as possible in the community until Idlewild is fully restored.