Idlewild recognized in Smithsonian documentary 'Green Book'

IDLEWILD — A world spotlight is shining on Idlewild with the recently aired Smithsonian Channel documentary, “Green Book Guide to Freedom: The Essential Travel Guide for a Segregated America.”

On Feb. 25, when the film nationally aired, several Lake County residents made the long trip in adverse weather to Detroit for a screening event at the Museum of African American History. The history of Idlewild, a historic African-American resort community which flourished during times of segregation, is highlighted in the film through the stories of five people connected with the town.

Filming was done onsite last summer by documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen, whose work has been featured on PBS, New York Times Op Doc and other media publications.

The Smithsonian hosted 18 stops throughout the U.S. to promote the film, according to Lake County Historical Society President Bruce Micinski, who was invited to be on a discussion panel as part of the screening event.

“What began with an email last year summer from a company in England, Impossible Factual, who contracted with Smithsonian for the documentary, saying they were interested in highlighting Idlewild in reference to the Green Book, has now been showed throughout the world on the Smithsonian Channel, bringing attention to our county,” he said.

The Green Book, founded by Victor H. Green, came into use by the 1930s as a motorist guidebook for African-Americans, listing places such as motels, gas stations and restaurants serving blacks during times of segregation. The documentary film, like the Oscar-winning movie, “Green Book,” brings to the surface personal experiences of an entire race being restricted to using a green book in the U.S. — something whites didn’t have to face when they freely traveled, using any services they desired.

The Green Book was more than just travel guide for African-Americans, it was like a compass, steering them in the right direction away from danger, away from places where they would not be welcomed. When they traveled long distances, they had to plan their route carefully, so they could eat, dine, buy gas and use the restroom at places which would accommodate them.

“Idlewild was a premier resort promoted in the Green Book, with swimming, dining, tennis, boating, fishing, hunting and entertainment at the Flamingo and Paradise clubs. Guests could have dinner and be entertained by famous musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan,” he said. “There were a number of places listed where blacks could stay in Lake County, including gas stations in Baldwin.

“Lake County was unique during times of segregation because it was an integrated community, not just in Idlewild, but in Baldwin, Webber Township, Irons and all over.”

During the filming last summer, the film crew spend a whole day in Idlewild and were fascinated by the history, Micinski added.

About 350 people attended the debut of the film in Detroit.

“There was a little reception, by invite only, and we were welcomed by Linda Goldman, executive producer of the Smithsonian Channel,” Micinski said.

After the film viewing, Micinski, along with Patricia Williams, founder and CEO of Idlewild Community Development Corporation, joined a panel discussion with panel host Carol Cain, Detroit Free Press columnist and host of CBS Michigan Matters; Richen; and Jamon Jordan, president for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

“This was a great panel. Everyone had a fair share of dialogue. Everyone was so polite, and afterward, there were lots of great questions from the audience. This was good promotion for Lake County,” Micinski said, adding there was great interest among those in attendance of show-and-tell items he presented, including a detailed map of Idlewild and old photographs.

Williams agreed it was special to take part in the panel.

“I enjoyed sitting on the panel. It was really great — a wonderful experience for the community,” she said. “Quite a few people from Idlewild attended the event, and it was great to have their support. We were able to make contacts we hope to build on in the future for revitalization of Idlewild. I hope this be the beginning of something great coming to the area. The producer plans to come back in the future for an update on what is happening in the area. A lot of people are excited to see we made the big stage. It is exciting and I am humbled to be a part of it.”

Williams added during the filming last summer, they were able to take the film crew out on the lake, and also showed them historic buildings like the Flamingo Club, which was shown in the film.

Micinski said the five locals in the film were Lois Perry, who was a waitress at the Flamingo Club in Idlewild; Betty Foote, who runs the Summers Senior Center in Idlewild and formerly was married to Phil Giles, who ran the Flamingo Club; Eric Lindsey, son of Joe Lindsey, who owns a dry cleaner in Ludington, and connected the historic Wilson Grovery in Idlewild; Marilyn Taylor, who has been coming to the family cottage in Idlewild for the past seven decades; and Ronald Stephens, professor of African American Studies at Purdue University, who researched and wrote about Idlewild.

“The other big news is, by 2020, Smithsonian will have a traveling exhibit for the documentary throughout museums in America,” Micinski said. “We plan to show the program at our museum, I am sure we will get a copy. We are hoping to have our own ‘Hollywood’ event and put down the red carpet for the five local individuals featured in the film. This will be planned for the summer when more people are in the area.”