Our On The Map series this week explores the connection between community and culture and how unique cultures form communities.
Idlewild was the epitome of entertainment for African Americans to enjoy and be apart of. It was the place to be from the 1920’s to the 60’s.
It’s easy to get lost in Idlewild but then- again it’s fairly easy to make it back to your original trail. As long as you follow the paved roads. And if you listen to the music blazing from Williams Island. Home of the 13th annual Idlewild Music Festival.
The grounds are filled with musicians ,festival-goers, vendors and outsiders- who like myself came to see what Idlewild is all about.
“The most fun I ever had in my life was in Idlewild.
Idlewild was a place to go party. Party all night. We used to party until the sun up. Would be time to go get some rest and then get up start partying all over again.”
Meeks says in its prime, Idlewild was like Las Vegas. What makes the community important today is it’s history.
Idlewild was one of the only resorts that allowed African Americans to prosper by vacationing and purchasing property. During the 1920’s to the 60’s the entertainment center bustled with successful black businesses and professionals.Carlean Gill described that time period like freedom.
Gill was a showgirl in a four member women’s group- the Fiesta dolls.
“Getting to Idlewild was like going into a different world-like freedom. Because there was swimming there there was lot of activities and most of the people you saw were black. Very prominent. It was just like freedom to me.”
Gill said performers like Della Reese, Aretha Franklin and The Four Tops graced the stage in Idlewild. She recalls a time when she met Tina Turner at social event while her manager booked Tina and Ike Tuner for a show..
As for John Meeks, he now spends his time trying to bring life back to Idlewild.He launched the summer music festival.
And he organizes a yearly homecoming for the community.
“ And 2013 we had Idlewild’s first annual homecoming and we’ve had three years this, is our fourth year.Very Successful.”The love and history of Idlewild, is why Theresa Randleman got involved in helping to revive the community. She’s been involved with the music festival for 6 years.She’s produced for the last two.
“I changed the slogan since I became the producer and it’s honoring the past.Standing in the present. Looking towards the future.”
Randleman says the festival offers empowerment sessions for women. Last year the guest speaker was Madame C.J Walker’s great-great-granddaughter. Walker was the first female self-made millionaire in the country.
“In order to turn Idlewild around I thought it was good to have someone to come in to speak about financing. And investing and ways of just spending your money and investing your money and growing your money.”
After the the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Other resorts began to accommodate African Americans. Business in Idlewild did begin to slow down.John Meeks made it clear in the town’s hayday, he loved to meet and greet beautiful women.Now he refers to Idlewild as his wife.
“Everything I do and everything I spend is on Idlewild. I don’t spend nothing on myself. My daughter told me I run around looking like a bum. But I spend money to try to make Idlewild to look good.:”
He said his message for the younger generation is to buy land here.
“I told some young people today. Buy a piece of the rock. Buy some property in Idlewild. If the young generation buy some property in Idlewild. Idlewild will remain a black historical resort, if they don’t it’ll lose it’s identity.”
As we finish our tour of Idlewild. The festival is still going strong and the music festival is that throwback to yesteryear.
Idlewild’s heart is community. It’s soul is entertainment.. Events like the summer music festival are helping to put Idlewild On The Map.