Cairo, Illinois - Abandoned by Sherman Cahal

Cairo, Illinois Once strategically important, now in terminal decline after decades of racial turbulence.

Cairo, Illinois, located in Alexander County at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers surrounded by levees, was strategically important during the Civil War but today is one of the poorest cities in the United States today after decades of racial turbulence.


Early History

Cairo was founded by the Darius Holbrook of Boston, Massachusetts, who had started the Cairo City and Canal Company in 1837.Its location alongside the Mississippi and Ohio rivers was referred to as a “dismal swamp” by Charles Dickens in 1842.6

Bonds were sold to fund a levee, dry dock, and shipyard for Cairo, although the failed in 1840.7 Nevertheless, the Cairo City and Canal Company began selling lots for a new city in 1853, although sales were slow until the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) was completed from Galena in 1856. Cairo formally incorporated in 1858 and by 1860, the city boasted 2,000 residents.6

Mark Twain described Cairo as the “promised land” in his book, Huckleberry Finn.5 The city was situated at the southernmost tip of what was called “free soil,” and its location along the river made the Cairo a centralized location for African-Americans heading northward into the free Union out of the Confederate south

During the American Civil War, the Union constructed Camp Defiance in Cairo to serve as a supply base and training center for the army. Its central location to the Union was vital to the distribution of supplies to troops that were fighting in the southern states, as supplies could be ferried easily via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It was also where brigadier general Ulysses S. Grant launched offensive movements into Kentucky and other southern states.5 7

After the Civil War concluded, Cairo prospered with an influx of wealth and population. The African-American population surged as well, increasing from 50 prior the Civil War to nearly 3,000, namely due to escaped and freed slaves coming to Cairo via the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.5

Growth

The city’s economy boomed as it served as a vital steamboat port along the rivers. It was designated a port of delivery by the United States Congress in 1854. In 1869, construction began on a federal Custom House and Post Office. The structure, designed by Alfred B. Mullet, the supervising architect during the post-war Reconstruction, was completed in 1872.

Cairo also served as a railroad and ferry hub. By the late 1800’s, as many as 500,000 railroad cars were ferried across the Mississippi and Ohio rivers yearly.1 By 1886, shipments via the river and railroad were valued $60 million, the highest per capita in the United States.5

Economic Stagnation

The completion of the Illinois Central Railroad Bridge over the Ohio River in 1899 led to a sharp decline in the railroad car ferry business. Another railroad bridge, completed at Thebes across the Mississippi River, further dented the ferry business. The first automobile bridge was finished across the Mississippi in 1929, followed by a companion Ohio River bridge in 1937. The combination of the railroad and automobile bridges caused the ferry industry to collapse.Associated railroad industries that were associated with the ferries began to close.

Beginning in the 1940’s and accelerating in the 1950’s, tugboats fueled by modern diesel engines began replacing steamboats powered by coal boilers. Refueling docks and maintenance shops dedicated to the steam-powered boats were no longer needed and associated businesses shuttered.

The population of Cairo peaked at 15,000 in 1920, remaining relatively steady until racial violence engulfed the city during the mid-20th century.


Racial Tensions

Racial tensions were well known early in Cairo’s history. By 1900, Cairo boasted a population of 13,000, of which 5,000 were of African-American descent. Five percent of all black residents in the state of Ilinois called Cairo home.2

The tensions were heightened when William James, a black resident, was lynched. James had been accused of assaulting and murdering Anna Pelly, who was white, on November 8, 1909.3 4 7 13 14 When James was placed in police custody on the following day, the several citizens demanded an immediate trial and conviction. The vocal citizens became angry when the case was delayed in court and a mob quickly formed. Sheriff Davis attempted to move James out of the city via the railroad. The mob seized another train and caught up to James north of the city who was then brought back to Cairo. A noose was installed at a decorative arch spanning the Commercial Avenue and 8th Street intersection. When the noose was placed around James’ neck, he allegedly confessed but claimed that another individual had taken the lead in the assault and murder.5

The rope broke during the hanging, which led the mob to shoot James to death. Following the shooting, the mob dragged the body to the scene of Pelly’s murder, where the violent group cut the head from the body and placed it on a pole. The body of James was then burned.3 5 7

The mob then went to look for Jame’s accomplice, identified as Arthur Alexander. When they were unable to locate him, they broke into the jail. Henry Salzner, a white photographer who was accused of murdering his wife in August, was broke out and then hung and shot at from a telegraph pole near the courthouse.4 The police then located Alexander, who disguised him as a police officer so they could escort him to the county jail safely. During this time, the mob continued their search, threatening the mayor and chief of police with violence.3

Eventually, the Governor of Illinois dispatched eleven companies of the state militia to Cairo to restore order. Soldiers arrived and restored order by the time the mob found out that Alexander was being held at the county jail.3

Preventing the Vote

There was a coordinated effort to prevent black people from voting in Future City, just north of Cairo.5 In 1913, the citizens of Cairo voted to allow at-large elections rather than representation from wards, aptly designed to prevent black people from being elected. In 1918, a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter was formed. But it was not until 1980 that a black person was elected to Cairo’s city government, and it was only after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the city was violating voting rights laws.5 The city was forced to return to ward elections.

Preventing Integration

In 1964, Cairo closed the city-run swimming pool in an effort to prevent integration.5

On July 16, 1967, Robert Hunt, a 19-year-old black solder that was home on leave, was found hanging in the city police station.5 While it was officially reported as a suicide, many members of the black community accused the police of murder.17 The FBI chose not to investigate the incident for foul play for fear that it would spark a riot.5 A large portion of the black population began rioting the next day, and later that night, three stores and a warehouse had been burned to the ground. The National Guard unit at Cairo was activated.18 In response, one of the leaders of the riot stated that “Cairo will look like Rome burning down” if the city leaders did not investigate the death of Hunt by July 23. The leader also demanded job opportunities, recreation programs, and an end to alleged police brutality. Cairo’s Mayor, Lee Stenzel, and other city leaders met with federal and state officials to develop a plan to end any further rioting.19 20

Nearly 600 citizens, all white, developed a citizens protection group that was deputized by the county sheriff. Known as the “White Hats,” the individuals wore white hats that showed membership. Reports of bullying against black individuals increased and by 1969, several black residents formed the Cairo United Front that brought together the local NAACP chapter, a cooperative association, and some black street gangs to counter the “White Hats.” The Cairo United Front requested the appointment of a black police chief, a black assistant fire chief, and an equal black-to-white ratio composition in all city jobs.21 The Cairo United Front then began a decade-long boycott of white owned businesses in Cairo, essentially every commercial entity.

A rash of violence followed, stopped only when Governor Richard Ogilvie deployed National Guardsmen to restore order.  On the morning of December 6, several black residents of the Pyramid Court housing project opened fire on three firemen and the Chief of Police as they responded to fires intentionally set at several businesses. One of the weapons included a high-powered rifle. In the end, 13 people were arrested.22 The city’s Chief of Police resigned in the following month, stating that Cairo lacked the legal and physical means to deal with the guerrilla warfare tactics that were being employed by black citizens.23

In December 1970, Cairo enacted a city ordnance that banned picketing within 20 feet of a business.24 A violent clash erupted as a result, and the Cairo United Front called for another large rally which turned violent when shots were fired by both black and white residents. State and federal courts soon overturned the ban on pocketing and put pressure on the “White Hats” to disband. By this time, most of the businesses in Cairo had closed or were in the process of closing in response to the violence.

In 1978, Interstate 57 was completed through southern Illinois, allowing motorists to completely bypass Cairo. In December 1987, the city hospital was abandoned.


Recent Events

In 2009, 75% of the county sheriff deputies were laid off, and five patrol cars were repossessed just days later over non-payment.7 The remaining patrol cars were mostly idled due to a lack of gasoline as the department lacked funds. Fort Defiance, which was vital to the Civil War, fell into disrepair after ownership transferred from the state to the city.

In mid-2011, seemingly endless rains caused the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to swell to record heights.7 8 In an effort to save Cairo from catastrophic flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided upon blowing up an opening in the Birds Point levee along the Mississippi River, which flooded 200 square miles of farmland and destroyed nearly 100 residences with up to 15 feet of water.8 The detonation was fought by the state of Missouri and numerous landowners, who contested that the extreme action was unnecessary and that they were not being compensated adequately.

As of 2010, Cairo is home to just 2,800 residents, a decline of 81% from its all-time peak of nearly 15,000 in 1920.5

Further Reading
Sources

58 Comments

  1. this is my birth place in 1958 June now its like back in the 20s in Mississippi I know some of this I was about. 10 it was bad then but I moved to a smalltown ad out 9 miles from Cairo I’ll it is call mound city I’ll it is the same Thair its so sad it seem that god gave up on the people.

    of Cairo and I have family in mound. city when I seen the movie of. Cairo I cried now I look. back at what has changed. it is a shame. for that to happen it was my home. and its will. all ways will I was. born thair god bless Cairo and mound city. il. and. the people I knowwho call. it home. like me thanks. for letting hurt logo all. Vicki

  2. This is really sad. To think my father was born and raised there. It’s no wonder he had a bad taste in his mouth for white people. He lived there in the heart of the worst. He was born in 1925. I’m blessed my father didn’t raise me to be racist after living in a place that was so racist. Wow, this really broke my heart.

  3. Passed through the city a few years ago. Kinda spooky looking, but we met some very nice people.
    Wife and I were traveling in august, both of us sick with food poisoning, but trying to make it home with still 500 miles to go.
    We had a flat tire right on main street. Both of us too weak and sick to even think of changing it.
    Very nice people, black and white, changed our tire. Got us some water and offered food, but we couldnt eat.
    offered to even put us up for the night.
    We were very blessed by strangers there … who went out of their way to help a couple travelers.

  4. I have a lot of family from Cairo. My grandfather was a sharecropper there and my uncles and aunts were born and raised there but migrated North during the early 60’s I believe. I have recently began putting together a family tree on my Mother’s side of the family. They were Lee and there were a ton of them/us. While I am sad that Cairo has gradually declined, i am intrigued by the amount of history there…good and bad. I doubt there is anything that can be done to bring the city back up. Very gripping and powerful and like I said, very sad.

  5. I lived in Cairo from 1955 to 1963. The age 6 to 13. I have such found memories. I can still smell the Magnolia trees as I rode my bike. There was a women who was known for her pastries. I love what see called a Goory Butter Cake. I am now 63 and retired. I would love to see the citizens of Cairo to find a way to turn it around.

  6. I drove to Cairo the other day not knowing the history of the towN and I actually had hopes for a sale for my Mary Kay business. When I got in the town I wanted to kick my car into sport mode and jam the gas pedal. I was scared and frightened. I got to the house I needed to go to and when I got there the 2 women had 7 kids they were taking care of and they all were living in a condemned trailer and they were all Filthy. I let the ladies do their Mary Kay product demo but I didn’t even hang around for paper work cause I just wanted back on the interstate. After I got back on 57 i was so happy I was laughing and about to cry. Never wanT to go there again

  7. I love my hometown Cairo it might look bad but some people enjoy being there

    I love being there

      • I was talking about Shemwells not too long ago wondering if it was still there loved the Pork sandwiches. It was my hometown for twenty years. Frankie Hu

      • I’m a Baity. My family is from Mound Citybest sand which in the world

  8. We were driving around scouting out our next location and we were told to venture to Cario,IL Over the bridge we go…Drove around the town, looks like a location for FEAR the WALKING DEAD could be shot at. Run down buildings, collapsing landmarks such as the GEM theater. What caught our eye was the Southern Medical Center. When we got there, we met up with a film crew shooting “Driving Dead” at the hospital. Course we wanted to take a look around. Pretty spooky inside, this is the next location we will shoot an episode at. Once we gain permission from the city. Walking around in there gives you a sadness feeling, and sometimes a heavy feeling, Researching how many deaths occurred inside. Anyone with this type of information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • I wish they would shoot a season of the driving dead/walking dead / fear the walking dead, maybe even a few post apo / zombie movies there, I lived there when I was really young, we moved after the racial tension got too much, mom worked at that hospital right up til it closed, my dad had a diesel shop just outside of town, I now live in olive branch, 13 miles north of Cairo ,, still drive thru once in awhile,, it’s sad,,,, maybe a tv show or a movie would give Cairo the boost it so richly needs ,,,,, my grandma has a picture book of Cairo back in the day,,,,,, looked like downtown St. Louis ,,,,, think bout it,,, spread the word please,,, I don’t wanna see this town die

  9. Three weeks ago we drove through Cairo – just intended a scenic side trip on our vacation. I’ve never seen anything like it! We thought maybe the town had flooded or a tornado hit or perhaps a fire? On the main street, vacant, dilapidated commercial buildings, in many cases only the foundations remained. We only saw one person outside, a young man walking down the street. Very few cars. Perhaps two businesses appeared open but no visible customers. We saw some homes off of the main road that looked occupied from a distance but it was all so strange we were afraid to explore more. The area is so pretty with the river winding nearby, and some beautiful old architecture…..so we had to go online and see what the heck happened. We were shocked to find out that the residents, out of hatred, racial tension, ignorance, and frustration, destroyed their own city. Where is the logic in that? Where is the pride? Cairo looks like it has been beautiful in the past and could perhaps be an amazing redevelopment project for a developer with vision and a lot of money.

  10. cairo il is a has been, never to be again-people always say it sholdve been the biggest city in illinios ,what fucking morons,it sits on an island -duhhhhhhhhhh,it can only grow so big. race riots, hangings of blacks ,etc…..killed cairo, once a beautiful citu on the ohio & mississippi rivers . now doomed to the dustbins of history. its sad to walk along the cairo streets , to see the dilapidated buildings & homes. if you listen closely you can hear the sounds of history in the air, the hatred,the racism ,the sadness & the joy of this once proud city.cairo is doomed , cairo is illinois shame, cairo destroyed itself .

  11. This town was destroyed by blacks…..they got what they deserved….it is a testament to what will happen to the country if blacks are allowed to run rampant and make the rules…..look at East St. Louis, Pine Bluff, Detroit….the list goes on and will soon include Chicago…..

    • I think the whites destroyed Cairo by not allowing civil rights as a law. The whites got what they deserved. They ruined their own town. I think it’s called don’t poop where you eat.

    • That is the kind of attitude that led to Cairo’s ultimate downfall in the first place, Bill and Jo.

      Blaming one race or the other is not the lesson we should ultimately take away from this sad story. White or black, both bear a share of the blame: The whites lynched the blacks and the blacks burned down several businesses that were quite frankly just caught in the crossfire of angry men. It was racial tension and complete intolerance between the two that destroyed poor Cairo. I’m sad that I will never see what the place looked like when my great-grandfather lived there.

      • I agree wholeheartedly with you Turcila; the intolerance of both sides caused this city to crumble. I, too, have a great grandfather that lived in Cairo and I wish I could see where he lived and what he experienced.

        And Bill, please do some research before you make ignorant comments. I am from Chicago and I know the history VERY well, so let me school you a little on what’s going on up here.

        Chicago is one of the most (if not the most) segregated city in the US still to this day. Whites are on the Northside, blacks are on the Southside (also the West side). Whites strategically placed blacks on the Southside to live in the ghettos and projects that they built. They didn’t provide adequate housing, schools, grocery stores or access to positive resources of any kind. Without access to a solid education, the black community is unable to obtain a decent paying job. Without a decent paying job, they are not able to provide for themselves or their families. Thus, they result to finding other means to making money (which includes illegal activities). The thirst for survival and the struggle to meet daily needs results in violence. It is a perpetuating cycle where the black community is at a constant disadvantage and lacking opportunities that whites on the Northside have an endless supply of.

        Unless you, sir, would like to come over here and sit down with Mayor Emanuel to come up with a way to break the cycle and give the black community a way to better themselves and their surroundings, your opinion about my great city of Chicago is empty and useless. We need less people like you in this world.

      • Bill and Jo,
        There is no such thing as white and black people. Just people. The ones living in a town that size who believed that they could stand on some else and hold them down, were delusional.Cairo is proof of this. It is a good thing that many people in America have learned to get past this now. This is America and this is where we live together. We simply cannot get rid of other people who we have decided are different than we are
        . If anyone believes they should spend their energy trying to diminish the quality of life of another person, this is what they will get. Using so-called race as an excuse to hurt another person or torment them, is primitive.
        FYI – my mother was born there and I have several relatives there now. I have been there many times. My mother was born in 1945, to put that in context.

    • Think about what your saying though, its people like you that caused the incline of racial tensions in Cairo that eventually lead to blacks wanting to be heard an treated differently. Everytime something like this happens with black people our whole race is critized, its bad in all races. They were just strong people without a dominant leader that could speak for the black people

  12. California musician Scott Cooper has released a new CD with a song about Cairo, ILL. The CD “Batik in Blue” opens with the song “K-Row.”
    The song is a fictitious story about a lover who leaves her man after a flood while he stays behind in Cairo. It’s both about the departure of the woman as well as the demise of the City itself.
    Cooper was born and raised in St. Louis but has lived in California since 1986. An old childhood friend who lives in Jackson, MO told Cooper about the city of Cairo and Cooper swiftly wrote a song about it.
    Cooper is a veteran of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene. He has performed with members of the Grateful Dead, Doobie Brothers and many others. His first CD”A Leg Trick” reached #5 on the national jam band radio charts. “Batik in Blue” is available on iTunes, Amazon, CDbaby and other sites. You can also download the song “K-Row” on it’s own.

    link to song:

  13. I was born and raised in Cairo. It was a Beautiful place at one time. I remember the hotdog vendor downtown the aroma, and the stores. So many places to go to. There use to be a Drive-In there. I feel all i have left of Cairo is the memories i have of my Childhood and my friends. Why should we suffer the consequences of others because we were born into this type of situation. I didn’t do this. It makes me want to cry for what has happened to Cairo. Even if they rebuild Cairo, it will never be the same for me!

  14. I recall traveling to Cairo as a child with my momma and grandma around Christmas. We would tour the Magnolia Manor, which is breathtakingly beautiful and open for your even today. The huge old buildings downtown are a silent memoir of a city full of robust stories of struggle and strife, what was, what could have been, and what it could be. I have never felt afraid to drive through the city, except maybe that I might meet up with a sink hole…. And, the people I have encountered have greeted me with a Southern sweetness and respect.

  15. i love exploring new places with history… kinda worried about going but who would recommend going for a visit to see how creepy this place is/isn’t?

  16. blacks ruined Cairo constant picketing boycotting , drove all white businesses out, who wants to hire thieves and vilolents

    • Blacks didn’t ruin Cairo, race riots ruined Cairo. A place where blacks were free but still had to deal with criticism for just having a different skin color. You can’t put the blame on just one race when blacks and whites played a part in what happend an what is still happening in Cairo. Don’t be a person that just talks to be heard on the internet , be about action if not then why even speak about a city that you probably have never been to

  17. My parents Gene and Mary Knight grew up in Cairo. I remember going there several times when I was young. My grandparents still lived there, but of course, 30 years changed the city. I remember my parents telling us so many stories about Cairo and how it was a booming city in the 50’s. So sad to see it like it is today.

  18. I will be in St. Louis in Sept. and mentioned to friends that it is said that it is interesting to see Cairo as it’s hard to believe you are in midwestern state. All said not waste time, but didn’t say why. NOW I UNDERSTAND!! One said visit Wheeling WV see how it feels like the midwest, not WV. P.S. Who is this going to?

  19. It’s not a black or white problem. It seems one side wanted equal rights of the city in the past. One part was ultimately feeling not welcome in the end. Now it’s time for the “minority” that wanted certain control to do something with the city. The riots for equality did not seem to have a positive impact.

  20. Comment of our History. (Notice nothing GOOD was written!!!) What I also noticed either the TOTAL LACK FROM our State & Federal big shots WHO did not care nor make any effort to fairly support Cario in any manner to bring PEACE or justice to all who suffered NO MATTER WHAT COLOR our skin was !!
    All thru history….. Cairo had
    RIOTS , hate & DESTRUCTION: As long as it was KEPT BELOW Carbondale or Springfield For that matter — we could all go to hell –

    Now look at Cairo; now 2016 ( I left in 1973, and a 1969 CHS grad). Corruption, dispair, greed & dirty POLITICS. Finally destroyed my lovely home town… May GOD help restore all her beauty someday – I pray to see her rise up & blossom before I Die . Namaste
    PLS-a

    P.S. All the millilons spent to prove Cairo, all the manpower, all the “wonderful plans or social experiments– ALL THE NATIONAL NEWS COVERAGE of our desmise — made Cairo appear as THE Little hell hole at the tip of great ?!?’ Illinois. A prime EXAMPLE to the world — to prove others agenda — caused everyone who lived or worked in CAIRO to Suffer… We still hurt.

  21. I grew up in a small village 20 miles north of Cairo called Grand Chain. I graduated high school there in 1955. During those years Cairo was a destination point for many activities, like shopping and entertainment. Seldom ever did we travel to Paducah, KY or Cape Giradeau MO. Cairo had most everything we needed and fun places to go such a skating rink, two movie theaters, a Drive-in theater, Bars and Resturants with the best Bar B Q around at Macs and Shemwells. A greasy hamburger could be purchased at an outdoor stand on a busy Saturday afternoon after shopping and if that didn’t work for you, you could stop at the What A Burger when leaving town going north on H-way 51. My wife of 60 years now, went on our first date to the Gem theater and later attended the Drive-In many times as well. Innocent and naive times they were and we were married in June of 1956. My wife’s mother worked at Snowers, a sewing factory for 20 years before retiring and relocating to Arizona with us in 1980. All in all, we remember the good times in Cairo during the early 50’s, maybe the best ever. We are very saddened by the serious decline in Cairo, a small city we once loved during the past 50 years. BTW I have spent the past 60 years trying to educate people on the correct pronunciation of Cairo. It is (Car o) and not (Kay Ro)

  22. I am from Cairo. I was born there in 1950, and lived there until I entered the Army in 1968. There was good people that lived there, and cared for the town. Both black and white. A lot of Cairo’s problems came from people that did not live n Cairo. I look back and there was very stupid things that happened in Cairo. I retired from the Army in 1989, and tried to live in Cairo and found out I couldn’t. No jobs! I wish Cairo could return to the town I remember as a child in the 50’s. Cairo is my hometown and I have always been proud to say that. If you don’t have good things to say about Cairo. Don’t say anything!

  23. Cairo was a great place when I was a kid. My wife and I got married in Cairo. Now it is not fit for anyone to live in. This is a shame and could have been prevented if the Black Panthers and the like had not come in and ruined the city. After the attack o the police station I don’t think the city ever was the same.

  24. Cairo has a bright future. It has an opportunity to become a “African American” story of the future. With control of the city government and the school system, they can concentrate on growth, development and education. They can set an example for all “Black” controlled schools to strive to and succeed.. Time and time again, the “bell of education” has been “rung’ offering an opportunity show the country and world that African American are capable of excellence in education. Show them what you are capable of, want to be and have a right to be. Develop the “smartest and brightest school system. Develop the smartest and brightest students. Develop the best run city. Make Cairo proud. Make yourself proud. Make us proud. Drop the mantle of “they owe us”, “we deserve”, “we want”. or “it’s our right”. Cairoites deserve the right to succeed; but, the federal government, the state government and the city government cann’t provide that success, ONLY you can. Just because you are poor dose not mean you are smart, educiated and driven. SUCCEED and SUCCEED AND SUCEED. ALL of those “outsiders” are only going to provide very small “piece of the pie”, feed the “system of neglect and despair”. ONLY YOU CAN “GET AHEAD ON YOUR OWN” , ALL THEY DO IS JUST GIVE YOU ENOUGH TO LIVE, KEEP YOU DOWN AND KEEP YOU VOTING FOR THE WELFARE SYSTEM. HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT, THEY HAVE PUSHED YOU TO THE BOTTOM RUNG “OF THE LADDER OF SUCCESS”. THE SYSTEM WON’T LET YOU SUCCEED, YOU HAVE TO SUCCEED ON YOUR OWN. DEVELOP YOUR OWN LEADERS, DEVELOP YOUR OWN TEACHERS. DEVELOP YOUR OWN TOWN, DEVELOP YOUR OWN SCHOOL SYSTEM, DEVELOP YOURSELF, NO ONE ELSE WILL. SIGHT THE LIGHT ON YOURSELF. 100 YEARS IS LONG ENOUGHT FOR US TO WAIT.

  25. I grew up across the Miss River from Cairo. My dentist and their family were there. During the late 60’s we could watch things burn during the race riots. In 2011 they should have left the levee in MS County alone and let the river(s) do what they do. It’s a crying shame what happened to Cairo and Charleston MO isn’t that far behind. The next time there is a major flood, don’t blow the levee, just let the river cleanse Cairo as best it can. Cairo is beyond redemption, with the exception of Shemwells, some of the best BBQ you have ever let pass your lips. God help the citizens of Cairo.

  26. I was born in Cairo , at St Mary Hospital in 1954 , Cairo started going down hill in the early 70’s , that when they blow up the coke a cola plant , a lot of racial problems back then ,, but it still was a booming city

  27. My aunt, uncle and cousins lived in Mounds near Cairo. I remember the fast boats races on the river. Unfortunately, a fatal accident happened during one of the races. He was a good friend of my dad’s. Spent quite a bit of time there during my childhood staying and visiting my relatives.

  28. In 1968 I worked for Proctor & Gamble In Neeleys Landing, Mo……17 miles out of Cape Girardeau. Two of my co-workers, a mother & daughter, had to move out of Cairo because of the violence. Both these women were black so it must have really been a terrible time for both races of people. The mother had lived there all her life . very painful to have to leave her home. such sadness.

  29. Who wrote this BS? Somebody is always re-writing history in a politically correct way. For instance: If you’re trying to explain what happened to Cairo what exactly is the purpose in bringing up the lynching. That had absolutely nothing to do with Cairo’s decline….but, of course, it facilitates the standard racial tension story line. I was born in Cairo in 1947 and grew up there. Of course everyone had heard about the lynching…..but it didn’t seem racial to me…just reactionary in a mob sort of way..plus it was 50-60 years before. So why bring it up here? And by the way, author, you don’t “demand” a position in the city government you get “voted” in and playing around with redistricting by political parties to improve their chances is a common but not racial thing in politics. Also, amongst other errors in this story, the pool was not closed down to “prevent” integration but was closed down because of it……the facts are that once it was integrated whites stopped going to the pool. You might say that was racist but the reality of it was that the cultures clashed…and for good reason. True, Cairo had business declines when certain industries left, but could have easily existed as a small town instead of declining into it’s current bombed-out state except for one thing. What killed Cairo was not segregation but integration. This is not saying that skin color did it…it was what was attached to the skin color…a totally different culture and way of life that white people were not comfortable with. You can scream and cry “racist” all you want about that last statement but reality is reality. Example: my mother taught in the public schools for over 20 years. She lasted only 2 years after integration of the schools because the teaching environment changed so much. The “effect” of Cairo’s black culture on the schools ruined them and without a school system that anyone wants to go to you have a dying town. Without going further the “proof is now in the pudding.” Blacks have Cairo now and have had it for a long time. It is theirs to do with what they want….and so what is Cairo’s status now? One more thing. There was a comment above that is very revealing by a guy named Andi from Chicago. He says whites didn’t “provide” blacks with good housing, schools, grocery stores, etc for blacks…. Really? Who, Andi, provides these things for whites? A revealing mental concept about who is supposed to take care of who that as long as it persists will always create ghettos and towns like Cairo.

  30. I from Cairo. I vowed if i ever came into money, i would go rebuild my beloved town. First getting rid of the corruption in office then building two rehab facilities, one for womenbs nd one for men.. Then we begin to rebuild and bring business to our town.

  31. In the late 50s early 60s. My family drove from Rockford which is a the top of the state of Illinois,,through Cairo on our way to Alabama. As a pup .. I remember the car bridge. And as a black family.. I remember the the gloom over the town.

  32. My father was raised there, along with my aunts and uncle. I went there several times, and always enjoyed the visit. Its sad to see the town is in ruins. Cairo will always be part of my blood.

  33. Jane: we passed through parts of cairo last week. got off the interstate looking for gasoline, it was a little scary. the subway restaurant was apparently closed. as was almost everything else. it used to be a nice looking town but not any more. just sad, deserted and empty. many of the houses and businesses we saw appeared to be abandoned. we gave up on that and went back to 57 up to exit 8 where we stopped at the K and K truck stop which is not fancy at all. there was a very kind man apparently the owner, he pumped gas in an OLD time gas pump which he said had to be primed. it took a while to get done. but we enjoyed the difference. there is a time when you are better off not hurrying.

  34. my daughter was born there it was a lovely city but I always heard that Illinois
    . Ended at Carbondale the state would not help surport the rest of the state if you look at the roads down there they are in need of repair. There is no work there nothing to motivate people the citys around Cairo looks run down also . We lived in Mounds City and it is almost a ghost town now. Only a few jobs can be gotten. I’m glad we left southern Ill. I feel sorry for all the people whites and black and the kids growing up there I hope they can find a way to fix things

  35. Didn’t see any photos of the beautiful Cairo Hotel which was torn down years ago or of Magnolia Manor or River Lore and the other civil war era homes in that neighborhood.

  36. i was living in cairo when it was a great town. so sad what racial upheavels came to plus the flood. my grandmother lived and had a beauty shop there, i walked every street and even worked at JC Penneys on Commercial. I went to that theatre that has been trashed. heavy heart.

  37. I was there September 26, 2016 only to see the buildings of down town gone. In March of 2010 I stopped for the first time. The city was deserted, and looked like a movie prop.
    While I was in Cairo, I got to see the mansions and other homes. Some were in bad shape and empty, for I knew why. Maybe some time in the future, people will will look back and realize what they had. Until then it is just like many towns in America.

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