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‘Black Eden of Michigan’ Reborn: Former Detroit High School Teacher Leads Efforts to Revitalize Historic Black Community of Idlewild

A Michigan teacher is giving back to a once illustrious Black community and helping her students learn valuable life lessons at the same time.

Former Detroit high school teacher Maria Lawton Adams visited the community of Idlewild in 2020 and was devastated by what she saw. The 1,300 acres of land was established in 1912 and became a prime vacation destination for Black families from the 1920s through the mid-1960s.

WXYZ Detroit Screenshot

Famous Black entertainers, including BB King, Cab Calloway, Della Reese, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, and The Four Tops all graced stages of clubs located in the resort town, located about 3.5 hours from Detroit, in its heyday and historical figures like W.E.B. DuBois and Madam C.J. Walker owned property in the area.

“All these great musicians and actresses and actors found a place 2 ½ to 3 hours away from Detroit where they could perform at the Paradise Club or the Flamingo Club,” Lawton Adams said of the town formerly known as the “Black Eden of Michigan.”

After the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, Idlewild began to see a decline due to restrictions on where Black people could travel being significantly lessened. “Things started slowly deteriorating,” said Purdue University professor Ronald Stephens, who has studied and written about the community. “People abandoned homes that had been inherited to them by not paying taxes. Businesses started shutting down or were torn down or burnt down. … It was a whole other set of problems.”

In recent years, however, the area has been the focus of restoration efforts by local citizens and government as well. The state of Michigan invested $620,046 in the creation and completion of a 10-year strategic plan for the community that helped “improve the local infrastructure, create business opportunities and promote tourism.”

Revitalization projects have been created to draw interest and income such as a traveling museum and Idlewild Historic & Cultural Center, which were founded to preserve and share the area’s history, and the Idlewild International Film Festival, a yearly event since 2019.

In addition, at least 35 structures within the community have been marked as historic locations, including the home of America’s first open-heart surgeon., Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.

To read full story for Atlanta Black Star here.

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