Black Organizing in Pre-Civil War Illinois:
Creating Community, Demanding Justice

The African American population of Illinois grew dramatically in the pre-Civil War years, as Black people migrated into the state and began the work of establishing families and communities. Men and women pooled resources to establish Black churches and schools for Black children. Yet Black residents of Illinois faced repressive laws designed to marginalize and exclude them. In some locales, white residents violently attacked African Americans, seeking to expel them from towns and the countryside. Black people fought back. They insisted on their right to remain where they were. In the 1850s, drawing on community-based networks, they organized their first statewide conventions. Their main objective was to draw attention to racist state policies and demand their repeal.


Project Director: Kate Masur, Professor of History, Northwestern University

Lead Graduate Researcher: Hope McCaffrey

Chabraja Center for Historical Studies Graduate Fellows: Emiliano Aguilar, Mikala Stokes, and Marquis Taylor

Baker Undergraduate Research Fellows: Valeria Lira-Ruelas and Shira Nash

Research Assistant, Office of Undergraduate Research: Lia Davis

Additional Undergraduate Researchers: Sophia Blake, Hap Conover, Cameron Cook, Ronald Kim, Zachary Koons, Seri Lee, Christina Melehy, Maria Nasser, Ethan Reiss, and Elynnor Sandefer

Northwestern Digital Humanities Team: Méch Frazier, GIS and Cartographic Specialist, Northwestern University Libraries; Josh Honn, Digital Humanities Librarian, Northwestern University Libraries; and Matthew Taylor, Director, Media and Design Studio

Advising and Guidance: Michelle Byrnes, Jim Casey, Lauren Cooper, Gabrielle Foreman, Anna Lacy, Kaitlyn Tanis, Samantha de Vera, and everyone at Penn State University’s Center for Black Digital Research.

Alton, Madison Co., Illinois 1867. A. Ruger, Chicago Lithographing Co. (Source: Library of Congress)