Segments in this Video

Hopes and Failures of Cairo, Illinois (06:25)


At the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, Cairo hoped to be a prosperous city. The black population could not participate in most aspects of public life. In 1967, several fire-bombings due to racial tensions caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.

Geography and History of Cairo (07:44)

Cairo is in an ideal place for business because of its river access. Tim Stapinski argues that airplanes and cars hurt Cairo’s growth. Glenn Poshard explains that the southern part of Illinois is a delta and when people from the South began to settle there, they brought Southern values, including racial discrimination.

Multiculturalism and Racial Tension (08:41)

Father Gerald Montroy explains that Cairo was a southern town in a northern state, with an aristocracy and racial segregation. At the same time, Illinois had more progressive social programs, so many minorities moved to the area, sparking racial tension. Locals remember a thriving economy and business district.

Geography and Community Conflict (06:57)

Most immigration came from the South and the confluence of the rivers created a combination of northern and southern geographical zones. Community members and leaders remember growing racial tensions, boycotts, and the necessity of dialogue to provide a positive future. The first black mayor, Judson Childs, sought to be a people’s leader.

Social Hierarchy and Race War (08:19)

The White Hats were a group of volunteers that upheld white aristocracy and promoted violence against black people. Poshard explains that white people with wealth and power had no intention of disrupting their power to improve race relations. Rick Casper tours the town and describes the chaos and violence that broke out in the late 1960s.

Religious Community and Racial Violence (09:35)

Reverend J.L. Posey argues that the community in Cairo has strong faith. In 1909, the mayor tried to save a black man in jail for murder, but a mob caught them and brutally murdered him in public.

Boycott and Economic Depression (07:39)

Activist Clarence Dossie explains that downtown businesses would not hire black people, so they boycotted; tycoons pulled their money out. Many businesses failed, resulting in fewer jobs and an impoverished city. The Delta region is among the poorest in the U.S. and as the rivers rise, Cairo is at risk of flooding.

Segregation and Reaction to Integration (09:09)

Reverend Larry Potts argues that the biracial society caused problems in Cairo, and law enforcement needs more power and force to restore order. Rick Casper points out the areas which were inhabited by white and black people respectively, and explains how businesses shut down before complying with integration laws.

State Neglect and Community Revival (03:31)

As the river threatens to flood Cairo, Harry Lee Williams argues that the state government ignores any city as far south as Cairo. Chris Clavin and friends identified Cairo introduced a community space with a café and music venue; local residents view it with skepticism.

Industry and Flooding (07:15)

Mark Glaab explains that a river barge can transport more efficiently than trucks; Jay Manus argues that a move toward greener industry may bring people to Cairo. Cairo had to be evacuated due to flooding in 2011, but Mayor Childs says they will not give up hope.

Music and Racial Divide (07:39)

The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers flooded together for the first time in 2011. Bill Harrell recalls Soul Phonics rehearsing and recording in his basement during the time of race riots. Decades later, people still hold fear and racial animosity.

Employment and Education (02:55)

Mayor Childs describes a new program throughout Illinois that funds employers to hire young people. Poshard argues that although there are many smart and talented young people in Cairo, the social institutions necessary to support them are lacking. A student reads a poem about Cairo's history.

Historical and Natural Value (07:45)

In 2011, engineers blow up the levee, flooding valuable farmland in Missouri to save the depressed but historic town of Cairo. Poshard argues that Cairo should be a tourist attraction as a historical landmark. Nancy Novak Philipper describes the special connection to people and nature she found in Cairo.

Credits: Between Two Rivers (01:53)

Credits: Between Two Rivers

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Between Two Rivers

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This video presents a portrait of Cairo, Illinois, a community struggling with severe economic, social, and environmental pressures. It looks at the town's successful past with its booming river trade at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, followed by tumultuous years of lynchings and race riots, and then more recent serious floods. The video illustrates the long-term impact of the violent civil unrest, economic boycotts, curfews, and martial law that so deeply divided the community. It also explores Cairo's relationship to the unique environment that encircles the town and how that has impacted the community.

Length: 96 minutes

Item#: BVL150113

Copyright date: ©2012

Closed Captioned

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