The story of a forgotten America.


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


On the oldest maps, the historic meeting place of “Father Mississippi” and “La Belle Ohio” was marked “Ancient Fort.”

The first municipal charter for Cairo and the Bank of Cairo was issued in 1818, but without any settlers and depositors, the effort failed. Another effort was made by Darius Holbrook, who founded the Cairo City & Canal Company in 1837. 7 Bonds were sold to fund a levee, dry dock, and shipyard for the company, although the business had failed by 1840. Its location was dismissed as nothing more than a “dismal swamp” by Charles Dickens in 1842. 6

Nevertheless, Cairo City & Canal began selling lots for a new city in 1853. 6 The city was designated a port of delivery by an Act of Congress in 1854, which boosted its fledging river ports. In 1856, the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) was completed from Galena. 6 26 A new city charter was composed in 1857, and by 1860, the town boasted 2,000 residents. 6

Mark Twain characterized Cairo as the “promised land” in his book, Huckleberry Finn. 5 Its location at the southernmost tip of the “free soil” and its location along the river made Cairo a hub for African Americans heading north out of the Confederate south.

Cairo became a strategic point for campaigns in the South during the Civil War. Its location along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers was seen as vital to the distribution of supplies to troops. on September 6, 1861, Union Admiral Andrew Hull Foote made the town the naval station for the Mississippi River Squadron. As the city had no land available for base facilities, the navy yard repair shop machinery was installed aboard wharf boats, steamers, rafts, and tugs. In January 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant occupied the city and had Fort Defiance constructed to protect the confluence of the rivers. It was also where Grant launched offensive movements into Kentucky and other southern states. 5 7

The military occupation of Cairo caused much of the city’s trade to be diverted by railroad to Chicago permanently. The city failed to regain its importance after the war as more railroads converged on Chicago, attracting stockyards, meat processing plants, and heavy industries. Cairo did regain some industries; however, it focused on agriculture, lumber, and sawmills. Additionally, the city developed as a regional commercial center.

Growth and Stagnation

The strategic importance of Cairo’s geographic location at the apex of two significant rivers sparked prosperity. The growth in steamboat traffic and its commercial businesses continued after the war. Construction began on the United States Custom House and Post Office in 1869 and finished in 1872. It was a combination custom house, post office, and United States Court, with the post office becoming the third busiest in the nation.

It also became a hub for railroad shipping, with several railroad lines branching from the city. As many as 500,000 railroad cars were ferried across the rivers yearly to Missouri and Kentucky by the late 1800s. 1 By 1886, shipments via the river and railroad were valued at $60 million, the highest per capita in the nation. 5

Wealth flowed into the town, and merchants and shippers built numerous mansions along Washington Avenue, including the Italianate Magnolia Manor and the Second Empire Riverlore Mansion. The elaborate Cairo Public Library was added in 1883 and featured Queen Anne architecture, stained glass windows, and ornate woodwork.

Cairo had begun to stagnate by the dawn of the Great Depression. The completion of two railroad bridges over the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in 1899 and 1905, respectively, eliminated the use of railroad car ferries. The completion of two automobile bridges over the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in 1929 and 1937, respectively, caused the ferry business to collapse completely. 1 Beginning in the 1940s, tugboats, fueled by modern diesel engines, began replacing steamboats that were powered by coal boilers. Refueling docks and maintenance shops dedicated to steamboats in Cairo were no longer needed, and associated businesses shuttered.

Cairo’s population peaked at 15,000 in 1920 and remained steady until racial violence engulfed the city during the mid-20th century.

Racial Tensions

The African Americans population of Cairo surged after the Civil War because of escaped and freed slaves that migrated via the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. 5 The African Americans population in the municipality increased from 50 persons before the Civil War to nearly 3,000 by the close of the 19th century. By 1900, 38% of the city’s population was of African-American heritage versus just 5% for the entire state. 2

Cairo’s turbulent history of race relations was characterized by the spectacle of the lynching of William James on November 11, 1909. 3 4 7 13 14 James, who was black, had been accused of assaulting and murdering Anna Pelly, who was White.

When James was placed in police custody on November 9, several citizens demanded an immediate trial and conviction. A mob quickly formed, and Sheriff Davis attempted to move James out of the city via the railroad. The group 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 that spanned 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. The mob then dragged the corpse to the scene of Pelly’s murder, where James’ head was cut from the body and placed on a pole. The remainder of the body was then burned. 3 5 7

The mob then went to look for Arthur Alexander, James’ accomplice. Unable to find him, the crowd broke into the jail and broke out Henry Salzner, a White photographer who was accused of murdering his wife, who was subsequently hung and shot at from a telegraph pole near the courthouse. 4 Police later located Alexander, who was disguised as a fellow officer, so they could safely escort him to the county jail. 3

The Governor of Illinois dispatched eleven companies of the state militia to Cairo to restore order. 3

In 1913, the citizens of Cairo voted to allow at-large elections rather than ward representations, aptly designed to prevent African Americans people from being elected. 5 It was not until 1980 that a black person was elected to Cairo’s city government, which came only after the United States Supreme Court forced the city to return to ward representations after it found its at-large elections to be discriminatory. 5


Between the 1930s and 1960s, the population of Cairo remained relatively steady, but it could not ignore the loss of jobs in the ferry, railroad, and shipping industries. People began moving to other, more prosperous cities for work.

Racial tensions rose again in the late 1960s as African Americans sought greater integration into Cairo’s local economy and society. Most city and civil service jobs were dominated by whites, and black residents were routinely harassed and targeted by the police.

Robert Hunt, a 19-year-old African American soldier that was home on leave, was found hanging in the city police station on July 16, 1967. 5 While it was reported as a suicide, many in the black community accused the police of murder. 17 The FBI chose not to investigate the incident for foul play.

A large portion of the black population in Cairo began rioting on July 17, and during the night, three stores and a warehouse were burned to the ground. 5 Windows were broken out in numerous other buildings. The local National Guard unit was activated, 18 and Mayor Lee Stenzel and other city leaders met with federal and state officials to develop a plan to end further rioting. 19 20

In response to the rioting, the 600 all-white citizens in Cairo formed a citizen’s protection group that was then deputized by the county sheriff. Known as the “White Hats,” because many of its members began wearing white construction hats to show their membership, they began patrolling the streets to maintain order. Reports of bullying against black individuals increased, and in 1969, several black residents formed the Cairo United Front, which combined the local NAACP chapter, a cooperative association, and street gangs. The Cairo United Front demanded the appointment of a black police chief, a black assistant fire chief, and an equal black-to-white ratio composition in all city jobs. Then it began a decade-long boycott of white-owned businesses in Cairo, which made up nearly every commercial entity. 21

A rash of violence followed. On the morning of December 6, several black residents of the Pyramid Court housing project shot three firemen and the Chief of Police as they responded to fires intentionally set at several businesses, leading to the arrest of 13 people. 22 The Cairo Chief of Police resigned in January 1970, noting that the city lacked the legal and physical means to deal with guerrilla warfare tactics. 23

The African American community then began picketing white-owned businesses, which led to the passing of an ordnance in December that prohibited the picketing within 20 feet of a commercial entity. 24 This led to a new wave of violence led by the Cairo United Front. The ban on picketing was soon overturned in state and federal courts.

Ultimately, the construction of Interstate 57 through southern Illinois and Missouri allowed motorists to bypass Cairo altogether, crippling the remaining hospitality industry in the city and causing the remaining businesses to close up. In December 1986, the city hospital was abandoned.

In 2009, three-fourths of the county’s sheriff deputies, based in Cairo, was laid off, and five patrol cars were repossessed by the lender over non-payment. 7 The remaining patrol cars were idled due to a lack of gasoline as the department lacked funds for fuel.

As of 2020, the city of Cairo is home to 2,800 residents, a decline of 89% from its all-time peak of 15,000 in 1920.


Cairo Elks Lodge No. 651

Cairo Elks Lodge No. 651 was organized in January 1901 and met in various locations, including the c. 1912 Cairo Board of Trade Building on 8th Street and then the former Kimmel/Jackson/Rodgers/Lincoln Theatre on 9th Street.

Cairo Masonic Lodge No. 237

The Cairo Masonic Lodge No. 237 A.F. & A.M. was chartered on October 7, 1857. The cornerstone for its present-day facility at Washington Avenue and 8th Street was laid on January 7, 1924.

Delta City Fire Company No. 6

The Delta City Fire Company No. 6, at 1711 Commercial Avenue, was constructed prior to 1875. 16 Originally a private corporation, the fire company became Fire Station No. 1 when a city fire department was organized in the 1880s.

Gem Theatre

The Gem Theatre is an abandoned theater on 8th Street that opened in 1910 and closed in 1978.

Kimmel Theatre

The Kimmel Theatre is an abandoned theater on 8th Street that opened in 1912. It briefly became the Grand Central Theatre in 1914, the Jackson Theatre in 1932, the Rodgers Theatre in 1936, and the Lincoln Theatre in the 1950s before closing in the late 1960s. After the Lincoln Theatre closed, the building was re-purposed for the Cairo Elks Lodge No. 651, which was previously located in the adjacent Board of Trades Building.

St. Patrick Catholic Church

The St. Patrick Parish was established in 1838 and its original building was the first church in Cairo. 15 After outgrowing through two smaller structures, a larger Romanesque-style church building was constructed of Bedford limestone at the corner of Washington Avenue and 9th Street in 1894. The two-story structure featured the main sanctuary upstairs with a smaller chapel and parish hall downstairs. The sanctum includes 16 stained glass windows depicting the birth of Christ, the crucifixion, and various saints, along with four original oil paintings of the archangels St. Michael and St. Gabriel, and St. Peter and St. Paul.

Southern Medical Center

The first hospital in Cairo was established after the Civil War. 21 In October 1953, 21 the new St. Mary’s Hospital, with 130 beds, opened at Cross and Cedar Streets 24 and was operated by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. 25

The hospital began to experience severe financial hardships by the early 1970s because of the extraordinarily high percentage of residents who relied on public aid for living and medical expenses, and because of a lack of patients due to the sharp decline of Cairo’s population. 17 21 24 At some points, 80% to 90% of patients relied on federal or state assistance, which only reimbursed 85% of a hospital’s treatment costs. A typical hospital has far fewer patients on public aid and can absorb the loss by relying on private pay or insured patients. 17

In June 1973, St. Mary’s announced plans to close by August 31. 23 After an emergency intervention by state health agencies and the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale School of Medicine, the Pulaski-Alexander Development Corporation (PADCO) acquired St. Mary’s and reopened it as the PADCO Community Hospital in March 1974. 25

Later known as the Southern Medical Center, it was able to secure a $650,000 Farmers Home Administration loan to reorganize its debts and expand services, but as the facility continued racking up debts, it began covering operating expenses by taking employees’ state and federal income tax withholdings and Medicare reimbursements. 17 21  In a vain effort to further cut costs, the hospital threatened to close its higher-cost maternity and obstetrics ward in May 1984. 20 The ward reopened after receiving a $63,000 advance on its state Medicaid reimbursement but it ultimately closed in September 1985.

Lourdes Health Management of Paducah, Kentucky took over operations of the ailing Southern Medical Center on March 1, 1986. 17 Soon after, the company found dozens of unpaid bills in the administration office, and employees were deluged by phone calls and mail from unpaid creditors. In September 1986, Governor James Thompson unveiled a bailout plan that would have infused operating cash into the hospital and promised $500,000 in capital improvements, 21 but the facility went bankrupt before the plan could be implemented 17 and was forced to close on November 30, 1986. 21 The emergency room, subsidized by the state, remained operational until August 8, 1988. 18

On August 22, Daystar Care Center, a local nursing home, announced plans to reopen the shuttered hospital, 19 which would include the re-establishment of emergency services on the first floor, a 20- to a 25-bed hospital on the second floor, and a special-care unit on the third floor. 18 The hospital building itself was acquired by realtor Rick Hunter for $194,000 in September who had the goal of leasing it to Daystar. 18 19 Hunter estimated that the building needed a new boiler system at the cost of $111,000, roof repairs at the cost of $18,000, additional central air conditioning units at the cost of $40,000, and the repair of pipe coverings over asbestos at the cost of $200. 18

After medical records and containers of unidentified chemicals were found inside, the EPA mandated cleanup of the facility which took place between April and September 2007 at the cost of $1.2 million. 22

Weber Dry Goods Building

Leon Emory Denison and Roy Gholson formed the Denison-Gholson Dry Goods in 1904 which grew into a sizeable retail institution in Cairo. 12 The firm purchased the stock of the Weber Dry Goods Company in July 1910, 13 and in 1911, the combined organization constructed a six-story building at the northwest Commercial Avenue and 5th Street to host its operations. The business later became known as Weber Dry Goods. 10

Weber Dry Goods Sanborn Map

In February 1956, Cal Turner, who operated the J.L. Turner & Son wholesale dry goods business in Scottsville, Kentucky, acquired the Weber Dry Goods Company. 11 Turner utilized Cairo as a secondary distribution center for his operations because of its central location and because of a lack of competition in the Cairo region. In June, Turner began operating retail dollar general stores selling dry and durable goods with no items priced at more than $1—which grew to become Dollar General. 11 Soon after, it was decided to consolidate operations in Scottsville so that Turner could have immediate supervision of all operations and save on operating expenses, and the Cairo building was re-used as general-purpose office space.

For a brief period in 1957, the building was used by Skyway Luggage Company of Seattle, Washington to manufacture molded plastic luggage. 14 In August 1966, Delta Wholesale Drug began operations from the Weber Building. 9

After decades of neglect and abandonment, a portion of the Weber Building collapsed in 2013. It was subsequently demolished.


Further Reading

  1. A Civil Rights Era Ghost Town by Visual News


  1. Bass, Kyle. “Cairo, Illinois.” Illinois History: A Magazine for Young People Apr. 2001: 48-49.Illinois Periodicals Online. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. Article.
  2.  “1909: Will James, “the Froggie”, lynched in Cairo.” Executed Today. N.p., 11 Nov. 2009. Web. 7 Feb.2012. Article.
  3. Lansden, John McMurray. “Miscellaneous Papers.” A History of the City of Cairo, Illinois. Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 1910. 277-278. Print.
  4. Niederkorn, William S. “One Lynching in Cairo, Ill.; Then, Another.” New York Times 12 Nov. 2009: n.pag. The Times Traveler. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. Article.
  5. “First Half Century.” The Cairo Project. Southern Illinois University Carbondale School ofJournalism, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.
  6. Barry, Dan. “Where Two Rivers Converge and Two Histories Divide.” New York Times 20 May 2007, New York ed.: A16. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. Article.
  7. Albin, Dave. “The Endless Sufferings of Cairo, Illinois.” Mises Daily. Ludwig von Mises Institute, 12 May 2011. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. Article.
  8. “Levee blast eases threat to Illinois town.” Quad City Times [Davenport] 3 May 2011. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. Article.
  9. “Wholesale Drug Firm Opens; Staff to Expand.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 21 Aug. 1966, p. 19.
  10. “Legal Notice.” Herald and Review [Decatur], 28 Oct. 1935, p. 7.
  11. Tax Court of the United States. Goodwyn Crockery Company, Petitioner, v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Respondent. Vol. 37, Oct. 1961, pp. 356–359.
  12. Smith, George Washington, editor. “Leon Emory Denison.” History of Southern Illinois, vol. 2, Lewis Publishing Company, 1912, p. 768.
  13. “Local and Personal.” Carbondale Free Press, 14 Jul. 1910, p. 3.
  14. “New Industry Due at Cairo.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 23 Jan. 1957, p. 1.
  15. About St. Patrick Church.” St. Patrick Church.
  16. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Cairo Historic District. By Robert Wagner, Feb. 1977.
  17. Renshaw, Elizabeth. “Cairo hospital’s new managers find a fiscal nightmare.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 6 Apr. 1986, pp. A1-A2.
  18. Haller, Beth. “Plans taking shape for new hospital in Cairo.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 11 Oct. 1988, p. 3.
  19. Haller, Beth. “Cairo hospital purchase close to finalization.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 8 Sept. 1988, p. 3N.
  20. DeWitte, Dave. “Cairo’s expectant moms may trek to Memorial.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 14 May 1984, p. 1.
  21. Renshaw, Elizabeth. “Post-mortem of a hospital.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 30 Nov. 1986, pp. A1-A2.
  22. Hale, Caleb. “Superfund Project.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 18 Apr. 2007, p. 1B-8B.
  23. “Hospitals object.” Dixon Evening Telegraph, 28 Jun. 1973, p. 2.
  24. Holler, Sandra. “Cairo’s St. Mary’s Hospital looks ahead.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 30 Mar. 1970, p. 7.
  25. de Fiebre, Henry. “Once almost closed, hospital gets new life, name.” Southern Illinoisan [Carbondale], 14 Mar. 1974, p. 3.


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I remember my first encounter with Cairo. It was a typical early Spring day in the Midwest: gloomy, mild and windy with the strong winds coming right up the floodplain. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop from miles away. The sound of an aluminum can rolling up the street, pushed by the wind was the only other thing around. The city depressed me because of all the things that have happened there. Local politics have not been kind to the city, and it shows. Cairo is a reminder that we, as humanity have a very long way to go.

On a recent trip from Fargo back to Mississippi, I got off the Interstate just North of Cairo to get gas. After some back roads, I finally found a station at Mound City. I then proceeded South on the back roads and came to Cairo. This place looked like a bombed out wreck of a town. There were some fine looking old buildings, but they had seen much better days. There was no traffic through town. There was handful of people. I stopped to let a woman cross the street, and she tried to get in my van. Whew, what kinda place is this?
I continued on and crossed the Mississippi into Missouri on a very narrow bridge. A few more miles got me back to the Interstate.
I don’t recommend that anyone take this side trip.

My urbex group Western Kentucky Urbexers are beginning to explore what is left of Cario. We have found that Cario will most likely not have any of its historical buildings oson due to the state and the local government tearing all of them down. We explored the old hospital, St. Mary’s when first opened and later called Southern Medical Center along with the original Elks Lodge. Gem theater was really cool to check out but its showing a lot of age and probably won’t last too much longer.

Ghost towns are not a new phenomenon, but their histories can be fascinating. The stories may vary as to what causes population flight, but one thing is constant: something changed that seriously impacted the ability for people to flourish there.

Change is, for better or worse, a fact of life, so we need to be able to adapt to new circumstances and learn from mistakes that were made by prior generations. We are not guaranteed a comfortable, trouble-free life on this earth, free of natural- or man-made disasters. We are not guaranteed that progress won’t make some things, jobs, or places, obsolete. Like humanity itself, new things are born and old things inevitably die away.

It is normal, I suppose, to feel nostalgic about places that were once the source of good times. Good friends, good jobs, good memories…all warm the soul and nourish the spirit. We never want to lose that feeling.

Cairo is finished. Over. Sorry, but the time has come to move on. Nestled right in the crux of possibly the worst perpetual flood disaster area one could imagine, it makes no sense to pour scarce resources into a rebuilding effort that will someday be scattered into pieces once again. And with a population that overwhelmingly demonstrates it’s lack of ability, or worse, the initiative, to take care of itself, it’s clear that Cairo cannot sustain itself any longer. It has become a glaring example of a “great society” sinkhole, where good intentions and massive amounts of welfare spending only prolong the bleeding, but never cure the problem.

Sad, but life is like that sometimes.

I discovered Cairo during a sightseeing trip with my family in the 70s. I decided then it would be a great place to retire. So in 2012 I purchased a home in the Park District at a fraction of what it would cost anywhere else I have been . And my taxes are lower than I have ever paid since 1970. This is as far south as you can go without leaving Illinois. The people are friendly, courteous, and Church-going. In a word – Southern. I was able to retire at 62 because I can afford to live on my Social Security and a small government pension without the need to supplement my income with another career. Most of the town is dying, but the Park District prospers as an upper middle class community. Someday the Park District may be all that is left, but that is o.k. There are plenty of small rural towns of less than 1000 people where the residents shop at stores 20 miles away. And a lot can be said about the advent of online shopping!
Just because 1/2 the town south of Washington Ave is dead or dying does not mean the whole town is doomed. Just like a tree with a leaf fungus..trim off the dead wood and enjoy what you have left.
Of course an influx of retirees such as myself would necessitate senior supporting businesses..which would ALSO be a good thing.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

I definitely agree…there’s greatness in us and it’s time to move forward…human and Divine effort will bring the needed results!

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 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

My dad grew up in southern Illinois, mostly in Gallatin County. Every other summer we drove 1300 miles from the farthest west city of Texas to Evansville, Indiana to visit family, then my uncle, aunt and cousins would make the drive to Texas the off summers. There were several farms that either had or still belonged to relatives when I was little, and we visited as many as possible every trip. We drove all over Southern Illinois and learned so much about where my dad grew up. One of my favorite stops was always Cairo! I was fascinated by the sight of the joining of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers! We also had to detour through town to drive around the huge park that was across from Magnolia Manor. At the time, the park was completely lined with magnolia trees. My mom loved magnolias and we had to drive around with the windows down so we could smell them. I will never forget it! Growing up in this desert I call home, the green of the area seemed like a dream world to me! Then, in my late teens, I discovered what my parents always complained about on those trips – humidity!! I never noticed it when I was little, then all of a sudden, it hit me like a ton of bricks! I decided right then I hated it and embraced my desert with a whole new appreciation! We travelled back about 25 years ago, and I was heartbroken to see how much the city had declined! And also at how many of those magnificent magnolia trees were gone! I hope to make the drive again before too long, and I will have to drive through Cairo in search of the “magnolia park” as I always called it.

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)

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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

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?

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.

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

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.

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!

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:

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

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…..

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 .

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… 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.

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

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 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

ISpent summers in Cairo . My aunt’s lived in the pyramid court housing project.. . Sad. I had fun and remember a lot of the people.

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