A travelling exhibit, “Welcome to Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan,” will be on display through Feb. 24 at the Village Theater at Cherry Hill, in Canton.
Exhibition visitors can learn about Michigan's role in the history of segregation and how a strong African-American sense of community developed in this Michigan town.
For many years Idlewild was known as a “Black Eden,” one of only a few resorts in the country where African-Americans could vacation and purchase property. In 1912, a group of entrepreneurs bought 2,700 acres of land in rural northwestern Michigan to establish a vacation community specifically for upper class African Americans. Prospective buyers came primarily from Detroit and other Midwest cities but some came from as far as Cuba. Prominent African Americans who purchased and developed property helped Idlewild quickly gain a national reputation.
At its peak it was the most popular resort in the Midwest and as many as 25,000 individuals came to Idlewild in the height of the summer season to enjoy camping, swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, roller skating and night-time entertainment. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act opened up other resorts to African-Americans, Idlewild's boomtown period subsided but the community continues to be an important place for vacationers and retirees. Idlewild also holds special meaning as a place for younger generations of African-Americans seeking to learn about their heritage.
“Through the evocative stories and photographs in this exhibit, Idlewild community members share their rich past and their contributions towards a vital future,” stated Marsha MacDowell, curator of folk arts at the MSU Museum and MSU professor of art and art history. The MSU Museum worked with Idlewild community leaders and scholars over a five-year period to develop the exhibit that shares the stories of the resort community's development, its thriving “Summer Apollo of Michigan” entertainment scene, and the town's active cultural, social, religious and political organizations.
The exhibition consists of freestanding photographic interpretive banners and a reproduction of a quilt by Michigan quilter Deonna Todd Green. It traces through words and images the development of the Idlewild community from its inception in the 1920s to the present day.This multi-media art exhibit at the Gallery@VT is free and open to the public 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Friday and during public performances at the theater. The Village Theater at Cherry Hill, located at 50400 Cherry Hill Road in Canton. For more information call (734) 394-5300 or visit cantonvillagetheater.org.